Michigan's Affirmative Action Cases to Be Heard by Full Circuit Court: October Hearings Postponed until December So All Nine Judges Could Hear Cases. (Noteworthy News: From Staff and News Wire Reports)

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ANN ARBOR, MICH.

The University of Michigan has a new court date for its two affirmative action cases and a new interim president who says he is just as dedicated to fighting to maintain the university's admissions policies as outgoing president Dr. Lee Bollinger was.

Dr. B. Joseph White, who was appointed interim president last month, immediately pledged his commitment to the cases.

"We have a rock-solid commitment to affirmative action and diversity," White said at a recent regents' meeting.

Added Regent Martin Taylor: "I really think our commitment to affirmative action is absolute and complete amongst all the regents and President White. There is no changing that course."

Still, Michigan will lose a driving force when Bollinger leaves to become Columbia University's president in December (see Black Issues, Oct. 25). He championed the use of affirmative action in admissions and played a key role in shaping the legal strategy of arguing that a diverse student body improves education for all.

In an interview last month, Bollinger said "nobody has talked to me about any kind of formal or informal or continuing relationship," regarding U-M's legal strategizing.

He said the foundation for the legal argument and the public explanation of Michigan's stance is well established.

The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati was scheduled to hear both cases on Oct. 23, but the hearings were postponed until Dec. 6 so all nine judges could hear them instead of the traditional three-judge panel. The two lawsuits filed in 1997 challenge U-M's affirmative-action policies in the undergraduate and law schools. Public universities nationwide are watching the cases closely because most use policies similar to Michigan's to achieve diversity.

A full hearing was requested in May by the Center for Individual Rights, which represents the plaintiffs in both cases.

"We're happy about the decision for a full hearing," says Curt Levey, director of legal and public affairs for the center, based in Washington, D.C. "I think the court agreed with us that this is an issue that needed to be heard by the whole court."

Three judges appointed by Democratic presidents had been scheduled to hear the cases Oct. 23. The full court consists of six Democrats and three Republicans. Three of the judges are women, six are men. Two are African American.

If the hearing had been held as scheduled with three judges, either side could have requested that all nine rehear the cases after the first three gave their opinions. …