Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan joined officials from 20 other states in signing a friend-of-the-court brief Wednesday supporting the use of race and ethnicity as factors in college admissions.
“Attorney General Madigan feels that educational opportunity for all students is a very critical issue,” a spokeswoman for Madigan said. “After speaking with a number of officials at different public universities across the state, she felt it was the right thing to do.”
The brief is in response to two lawsuits before the U.S. Supreme Court — Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger — filed against the University of Michigan that contest the use of affirmative action in undergraduate and law school admissions.
The cases are slated to appear before the court in April.
Madigan’s brief asks the justices to maintain the 1978 Regents of the University of California v. Bakke decision, which permits the use of ethnicity and race as factors in university admissions.
Thirty-eight private universities — including Northwestern — filed a separate brief Tuesday.
Alan Cubbage, vice president for university relations, said he thinks Madigan filed the brief for the same reason NU did.
“It is valuable and worthwhile to have a diverse group of the university’s faculty and students,” Cubbage said. “People benefit (from it) as they go out into the world.”
A spokesman said Madigan consulted experts from several Illinois universities, including Nancy Cantor, chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who was provost at Michigan when the lawsuit began. Cantor was unavailable for comment Thursday evening.
Julie Peterson, a spokeswoman for the University of Michigan, said she was astounded by the variety and number of organizations and individuals, including former military leaders and labor unions, that have filed briefs in support of Michigan.
“There’s an unprecedented amount of support in our case,” she said. “This conveys that the decision in Bakke is embraced by society and (shows) the importance of diversity is really woven into the fabrics of society.”
Peterson said the significance of the briefs is not merely the quantity filed before the court but the perspectives and legal arguments they highlight.
Gary Kaplan, a partner at the Pittsburgh law firm Reed Smith LLP, drafted the brief signed by NU. He said briefs are an important contribution to the legal process, but it is difficult to predict what effects they will have — even with the strength of both private institutions and many states behind them.
“Whenever anyone submits a brief to the Supreme Court, it’s hard work,” Kaplan said. “They hope their voice will have an influence.”
Kaplan said states’ briefs provide different points of view than those of private institutions.
“I think states have an important voice, because one of the standards for constitutionality is whether race serves a compelling state interest,” he said.