By David Russell
Recently, the Center for Individual Rights, the same organization that sued the University in the affirmative action cases decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003, brought a new lawsuit against the University seeking monetary compensation for 30,000 nonminority applicants rejected by the University between 1995 and 2003. The funds that CIR seeks to receive from the University include a nominal fee of $1, as well as a refund of the application fee for those nonminority students who applied to the School of Literature Science and the Arts but were not granted admission. Additionally, CIR claims that the University should pay for the tuition of rejected students that ended up attending more expensive private or out-of-state schools.
It is good to see the University fighting this lawsuit, not only because the case is ridiculous, but also because it represents an abdication of self-responsibility. Those students who applied between 1995 and 2003 knew the rules of applying; it was fairly well publicized and noted on the applications that the University was (and still is) an affirmative-action institution. If the students chose to apply to the University during that time, they consented to apply under those rules, and they have to deal with the consequences.
Jennifer Gratz and Barbara Grutter were denied admission to LSA and the Law School respectively, and decided to fight the rules with the aid of CIR, bringing affirmative action to the forefront of national discussion while their cases were debated, and in Gratz’s case, won against the University. As a result, the University has followed the law and changed its policies while still trying to maintain a diverse student body. CIR, though, despite its victory against LSA, is not quitting while its ahead. Instead, in this frivolous lawsuit it’s trying to turn the University into its own personal cash register. The first problem with CIR’s case is that there is no proof that the denied students would have been admitted to the University if an admissions policy that did not account for the applicant’s race had been in use when they applied. The second problem with the case is the lack of evidence suggesting that being denied admission to the University forces someone to attend an expensive private or out-of-state school.
In defense of the center’s actions, the president of CIR, Terry Pell said, “The law is open and shut on this. The court has held that the University has discriminated against thousands of applicants, and those who suffered financial or other damages as a result of the University’s intentional and illegal actions are entitled to compensation.” Well, what Pell forgot was how the CIR won the case against LSA, which is through a process commonly referred to as judicial review. Perhaps Pell thinks that it should be called judicial review and punish, where a previously legal act is ruled illegal, then we go back and punish people for it. If such a thing were true, take a look at Pell’s statement again. First change “applicants” to “people,” and then change both mentions of “University” to “slave owners.” With this in mind, is the CIR going to be suing for slave reparations anytime soon? Doubtful.
Using the slave reparations analogy it is easy to see how flawed the CIR case is. If the CIR continues to file lawsuits like this, it will quickly find itself becoming another legal pariah. It could end up like the American Civil Liberties Union — another bunch of lawyers who belong to a group with a name that sounds good, but now pursue some cases simply because they have nothing better to do (i.e. banning Santa Claus).
To avoid being regarded as another gadfly legal society, the lawyers for CIR need to act responsibly when they select and put together their cases. That means not suing to punish people, who at the time of the act, were within their legal rights. Also, CIR should tell potential plaintiffs to be responsible for their actions, and if they decided to apply to the University, or go to an out-of-state school then they have to bear the consequences of those decisions. Finally, CIR needs to drop the campaign for “reparations for non-minority college rejects” because if they are really the Center for Individual Rights they also — and most importantly — need to be the Center for Individual Responsibility.
Russell is an LSA freshman and member of the Daily’s editorial board.