Diverse Set of Affirmative Action Allies File in Supreme Court Case

What do Microsoft, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, the American Psychological Association, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Nike, Inc. all have in common? They are some of the most recognizable names that support affirmative action programs and have filed briefs before the U.S. Supreme Court in one of the most significant affirmative action battles before the Court in years. While the final filing deadline was Wednesday (2/19) at midnight (a deadline delayed by inclement weather in Washington, DC, which caused the Court to be closed on Tuesday), and thus the final tally of briefs filed is not yet complete, experts expect as many as 60 briefs to be filed in support of the University of Michigan’s affirmative action program.

One commentator calls the list of brief filers “a who’s who in many fields – an unlikely combination of doctors, politicians, social workers, and makers of cereal, ships, tennis shoes, prescription drugs, shampoo, soft drinks and other products.” (See AP article.) The military brief was signed by a very notable list of more than two dozen top retired military officers (a group hardly known for their support of liberal policies), including Schwarzkopf, the commander in the Persian Gulf War; Adm. William J. Crowe Jr., Gen. Hugh Shelton and Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, all former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, former head of the U.S. Central Command, and former Defense Secretaries William J. Perry and William S. Cohen. The military officials signing the brief support continuation of affirmative action programs because service academies and ROTC programs need affirmative action to maintain a highly diversified officer corps. Former Army undersecretary Joseph R. Reeder, announcing the legal action, said “It is absolutely essential to our fighting force,” Reeder said. “You can’t get there yet without taking race into consideration.” (See AP article.)

Another relatively surprising group of brief signers includes more than 30 major U.S. companies, most among the most recognizable corporations in the world, including Microsoft Corp., General Motors Corp., 3M, Abbott Laboratories, Bank One, Boeing Co., Coca-Cola, Intel, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Sara Lee, Pepsi, Nike, Reebok, American Airlines, United Airlines, ChevronTexaco, Shell Oil, Northrop Grumman, Pfizer, Eli Lilly, Schering-Plough, General Mills, and the Kellogg Co. (See Reuters article.) Like the military cosigners, these companies are attempting to preserve the diversity of the workforce. A Microsoft representative argued that “By upholding the university’s ability to include race and other factors in the admissions process, the courts will preserve Microsoft’s ability — and that of other companies — to recruit the diverse work force necessary for success in today’s global marketplace.” Notable among the signatories to the corporate brief are the number of high tech companies involved: Hewlett-Packard, IBM, as well as Intel, and Microsoft, as technology companies have been more reluctant than those in other industries to join the political fray. (See Business 2.0 article.) However, these companies noted that in order to compete in a global business environment, organizations need to build diverse workplaces.

It may come as less of a surprise that numerous politicians have weighed in. One brief was signed by a group of Democratic senators, including presidential hopefuls John Edwards and John Kerry, Minority Leader Tom Daschle, and Hillary Rodham Clinton and Ted Kennedy, while a separate brief was filed Wednesday by 60 members of Congress. (See Reuters article.) The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the Michigan case on April 1, with a ruling expected before the Court adjourns at the end of June.

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. With her legal research and writing for Workplace Fairness, she strives to equip people with the information they need to be their own best advocate.