DETROIT With a final promise to do his best in delivering a decision, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman rose from the bench and walked swiftly to his chambers, ending one of the most highly anticipated trials on the future of affirmative action in higher education.
It was a somewhat anti-climactic conclusion to a trial that has elicited an array of emotions from the somewhat dry statistical analysis of admissions decisions to the emotionally charged testimony of students the decision will ultimately affect the most.
And it was students who filled the courtroom Friday to capacity, flowing outside to the hallway where a picture of Ruby Bridges, the first black child to integrate her elementary school, hangs in celebration of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision.
In drafting his decision, Friedman will address the following:
n To what extent race is taken into account when evaluating an applicant.
n Whether the Law School”s use of race creates a double standard that favors less-qualified minority applicants.
n If race should be used to offset the advantages white applicants may have in evaluating standardized test scores and grade point averages.
Each side had a final 45 minutes to plead their case to Friedman in closing arguments. “We believe, as we have from the beginning, that no consideration of race can ever be lawful and justified,” began Center for Individual Rights lead counsel Kirk Kolbo.
“It is straightforward and clear that race is an enormous factor in admissions and (is applied) in so pervasive and in such a systematic matter that it has yielded two different standards of admissions.”
Kolbo continued to say that he was “surprised at the extent (the University) wants it both ways.” The University, he said, seems to argue that they have a system where race is only one of many factors but also argues race is so important that ending the use of affirmative action would result in a devastating drop in minority enrollment.
“They are pleading alternative facts and they just can”t have it both ways,” he said.
University lead counsel John Payton reiterated the position that the University evaluates applicants on a case-by-case basis, and that while race does make a difference, it is not the trump card CIR has tried to portray it as.
“We consider race as a factor in our admissions process we never denied it. Does it make a difference? Of course. We”ve never said otherwise,” Payton said.
Payton also stressed the Law School”s dedication to diversity for educational benefits. “We would not use race if we didn”t have to in order to obtain the meaningful numbers (of minorities),” he said. “We are in this to get the benefits of diversity.”
Payton concluded his arguments by urging the judge to remember the role law schools play in training future leaders, and referred to the language in Powell”s opinion that called diversity a compelling government interest.
“Compelling is almost too tame a word this is an educational necessity,” he said.
In contrast to the legal arguments made by Kolbo and Payton, lead counsel for the intervening defendants Miranda Massie appealed to Friedman”s sense of justice in making his decision.
“The future of affirmative action and integration is my future and it is part of your future,” she told the judge.
“It”s all of our future. It”s the future of everyone in this age regardless of age, gender, race. It”s the future of the thousands people across the state of Michigan. We”ll move forward together or we”ll move back. We can make more steps to equality and to justice and to democracy. It”s all our future. Help make it a bright one.”
And while all of the parties expressed relief at the trial”s end, it is with the understanding that Friday”s closing arguments are not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning of the University”s defense of its policies.
But for now, all there”s left to do is wait.