The Business Case for Diversity: 65 Leading American Businesses File an Amici Curiae Brief in the University of Michigan Diversity Case before the Supreme Court

Article excerpt

Taken from a conversation of THE BLACK COLLEGIAN with Attorney David W. DeBruin, Counsel of Record for the amici curiae brief filed on behalf of 65 leading businesses on February 18, 2003, in the University of Michigan case before the Supreme Court

What an amici curiae brief Is

An amicus curiae is a "friend of the court"--someone who is not directly involved in a case but who has an interest in the outcome and believes that his or her brief can help the Court make the right decision. Amici curiae is its plural, "friends of the court." That's what these 65 businesses did: they cared enough about the outcome to file a brief with the Supreme Court saying, "Please consider these views." Many other entities also filed amici curiae briefs in the case.

How the amici brief got started

Some of the businesses got involved when the cases first got started in the Federal District Court in Michigan. Steelcase was one of the first companies to get involved in the case, along with General Motors (which filed a separate brief). Steelcase is based in Grand Rapids and is the world's largest manufacturer of office furniture. The company is very involved with the University of Michigan, particularly in terms of hiring and recruiting. Steelcase wanted to support the university because it believed that diversity on campus is important. Steelcase asked us to assist them with that brief, which we agreed to do.

Another company that got involved early on was 3M, based in Minneapolis. This company is also very involved in hiring and recruitment at Michigan. The General Counsels at Steelcase and 3M, Jon Botsford and John Ursu, then contacted other companies they thought might be interested in the case. Ultimately, in the District Court, there were 20 companies that filed a brief supporting the university. These companies included Microsoft, Intel, Procter & Gamble, Kodak and several others, along with Steelcase and 3M. The brief emphasized that all of the companies are either located in Michigan or recruit extensively at the University of Michigan and that it is very important for them to be able to hire a diverse workforce. The brief also argued that it is important for all of their employees, black or white, to have been educated and trained in a diverse environment because that is the same kind of environment in which their employees work. All of the companies are large, multinational companies, and they all do business all over the world; thus, their employees must deal effectively with people of all races, cultures, and backgrounds. The companies argued in the brief that it was important that their workforce be educated in an environment in which they are exposed to different people, ideas, and viewpoints.

Legal issues

There were two fundamental legal issues that the Supreme Court had to decide in the undergraduate and law school cases. One was whether diversity on college and university campuses is "a compelling government interest." The law is such that our Constitution is largely, but not completely, colorblind. For very important reasons, there is a strong presumption under the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution that the government may not act on the basis of a person's race. The fundamental reason for that is to avoid government sponsored discrimination. The only exception to that rule occurs when the government has what is called "a compelling state interest," which is a very strong interest in actually considering the race of an individual. By means of their amici brief, these companies were saying that, yes, diversity on campus is that important, that it is a compelling government interest.

There is also a second issue. Even when a government entity has a compelling interest in considering race, it must do so in a way that is "narrowly tailored" to serve that interest. So that "narrow tailoring" issue brought into play the details of the particular admissions programs used by the Law School and the undergraduate college. …