March 3, 2003

Briefs spell out Emory's solidarity

By Michael Terrazas

Emory has signed onto two amici “friend of the court” briefs to show support for a pair of peer institutions involved in legal proceedings that could have profound impacts on higher education.

The two cases are unrelated; one has drawn newspaper headlines across the country, and while the other has been more low profile, its outcome could have far-reaching effects on Emory if adopted by the U.S. Supreme Court as the law of the land. General Counsel Kent Alexander and his office participated in the briefs, and he signed onto both on behalf of the University.

President George W. Bush made a splash recently when he announced the White House would get involved in two separate lawsuits, being heard jointly by the Supreme Court, that will determine whether the University of Michigan, a public institution, can use race as a factor in its admissions policy. On Feb. 18, Emory signed on with 37 other private colleges and universities to a brief filed by Carnegie Mellon University supporting Michigan’s policy.

Though the Michigan case would not have a direct impact on Emory’s admissions policies, it would set precedent for future legal action. Dan Walls, dean of admission, said that while Emory does not use the same system as Michigan—which grades applications through a using a point system, with an applicant’s race carrying a preassigned value—the two undergraduate schools share the common goal of an appropriately diverse student body.

“Schools like Emory evaluate a wide range of factors in a fair and sensitive way in making admission decisions,” said Walls. “We have no quotas, no formulas, and at least three admissions committee members read every application.”

The amicus brief hinges on the court’s 1978 decision in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, which held that some consideration of race in college admissions comports with the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment and with the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

“[We] believe,” the brief states, “the challenges of racial diversity are best met directly and openly through some consideration of race in evaluating individual candidates for admission, and [we] fail to see how it is preferable to use race ‘neutral’ proxies.”

The brief Emory supports joins several dozen similar briefs filed by a range of organizations. Amici briefs also have been filed in support of the lawsuits’ petitioners. The Michigan cases will be argued orally before the court on April 1.

In the other brief, Emory joined literally hundreds of colleges and universities—represented through such groups as the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and the Association of American Universities, among others—as well as 20 other individual schools in expressing support for Duke University in a case involving universities’ traditional experimental exemption from patent liability infringement.

In Duke University v. Madey, the institution is appealing a September 2002 decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals that apparently reversed a longstanding tradition of exempting colleges and universities from having to apply (and often pay) for licenses to use patented formulas, materials or technologies in their noncommercial research. AAMC filed the initial amicus brief, and other organizations and schools joined later.

“The almost 200-year-old ‘research exemption’ has historically protected noncommercial research because of its critical importance to scientific progress,” the AAMC said in a statement. “Depriving university scientists of this exemption will greatly increase research costs and could forestall or disrupt faculty’s work progress by creating a need to conduct patent searches and negotiate licenses before or during projects.”

According to Alexander, amici briefs simply demonstrate support for one party in a case.

“Instead of Duke going it alone,” Alexander said, “we are showing that a lot of institutions around the country are equally as concerned about this.”

The lower court ruling is an “outlier opinion,” Alexander added, and the Supreme Court may decline to review it.






Index Find Help Find Sites Find Jobs Find People Find Events