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Alum Files Amicus Curiae in Supreme Court Case

Liliana GarcesLiliana Garces, Ed.M.’06, Ed.D.’11, is serving as counsel of record for the Civil Rights Project at UCLA in an amicus curiae, or friend of the court, brief filed for a case set to be argued before the United States Supreme Court. The case, Schuette v. Michigan Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action et al., considers the constitutionality of a ban on affirmative action in Michigan.

Coming in the wake of the recent Supreme Court decision to uphold race-conscious admissions policies at the University of Texas at Austin — a case in which Garces authored briefs on behalf of 444 social science researchers — the Schuette case will rule on changes to the admission system at public postsecondary institutions in the state of Michigan. To be specific, the case will consider the constitutionality of Michigan’s Proposal 2, a voter-approved ban on affirmative action policies in Michigan universities, which was passed through a ballot vote in November 2006 with a margin of 58–42 percent.

Despite its passage with majority vote, Proposal 2 has faced an uphill battle in the courts over the past seven years, and last November the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals struck it down. Following this decision, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, who is arguing in favor of Proposal 2, petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.

Fortunately for Garces, this is not the first time she has been involved in a case at the Supreme Court level. Through her involvement as a research assistant for the CRP — a position she started in 2005 when she was still a doctoral student at HGSE — Garces has served as counsel of record in three amicus curiae briefs for the Supreme Court, including the recent Fisher v. University of Texas, and previously on a case involving the constitutionality of K–12 voluntary desegregation policies. According to Garces, in these briefs, she summarized research findings “that reflect the consensus of the social science community on educational practices and policies that affect racial and ethnic inequities in education.”

Now, as the Schuette case comes before the Supreme Court on October 15, Garces will represent the CRP by presenting findings from research studies that challenge Proposal 2.

“The CRP believes the Court should base its determinations on reliable research findings and is concerned that the Court might be influenced by claims made by the Attorney General that are strongly contradicted by social science evidence,” Garces says. “The Attorney General argues, for example, that Proposal 2 does not harm racial minorities. But this argument ignores the declines in racial diversity on campus that have taken place after bans on affirmative action and the real-world consequences that these declines have for students of color.”

A second major argument that the CPR finds issue with is one in which the Attorney General has argued that Proposal 2 actually benefits racial minorities by preventing them from being admitted to selective institutions where they are academically “mismatched” and cannot compete. In response, the CPR presents evidence to the contrary, pointing to studies that have consistently shown that racial minority students admitted to the most selective universities under race-conscious policies actually have higher completion rates than similar students enrolled in less selective institutions.

In the end, the CRP hopes that the evidence presented in its brief will speak for itself in the courtroom. Though Garces says it is hard to predict which way the Court will lean, she says she is thrilled for the opportunity to present research findings that can help inform the legal determinations in the case.

“The types of questions the Court is considering in Schuette relate to my research interests and, in past work, I have found that bans on affirmative action lead to statistically significant declines in the enrollment of underrepresented students of color in various graduate fields of study,” she says. Of course, despite her own research, Garces knows that the Supreme Court justices will have the final word on Proposal 2. A decision is expected sometime before the end of the Court’s term in June.