Feb. 20, 2003


University of New Mexico Professor of Law Margaret Montoya, with current and former UNM School of Law students, filed an amicus brief in the current U.S. Supreme Court case Grutter v. Bollinger challenging affirmative action in admissions.

The brief was filed Wednesday by local attorney Edward Benavidez, Counsel of Record, and recent UNM School of Law graduates David Urias and Ernestina Cruz for the New Mexico Hispanic Bar Association, New Mexico Black Lawyers Association and New Mexico Indian Bar Association in support of University of Michigan respondents.

Current UNM students Samantha Adams, Julie Sakura and Anita Sanchez also contributed to writing and researching the brief.

"It is very important that UNM be involved in the public debate about this public policy," Montoya said. "The UNM law school has long been a model for how affirmative action policies can be used responsibly."

Thirty-eight percent of students in the class of 2005 are minority, many Hispanic and Native American. More than half of New Mexico's population is non-white.

Students enrolled in a course Montoya taught fall semester were brought into the national debate to benefit both their educations and the community, Montoya said. "Our students are now involved in one of the most important Supreme Court cases to be decided in this half century," she said.

Students formed the Admissions Policy Project and also recently hosted a panel discussion and day at the state legislature to inform the public about the case.

New Mexico's three distinct sovereignties - federal, state and 22 Native American governments - pose unique challenges for higher education, the brief argues.

"Amici agree [as Justice Powell held in the Bakke case] that taking race into account as one factor in the evaluation of students for admission to study in institutions of higher education with the purpose of creating a diverse learning environment is a compelling state interest," the brief states.

"Invalidating the use of race-sensitive admissions procedures would adversely affect … New Mexico's compelling and constitutionally valid interest in assuring competent legal services for underserved populations," it states.

The brief's authors argue that UNM School of Law's race conscious admissions process transformed the racial composition of the New Mexico State Bar.

"A racially diverse state bar depends on a racially diverse law school and both are necessary for a minority-majority state like New Mexico to meet its obligation to provide legal services to racially isolated and economically disadvantaged state residents," the brief states.

Briefs have been filed of behalf of the University of Michigan by representatives of institutions of higher education, Fortune 500 companies and branches of the military concerned about international security.

"They realize academic excellence includes racial diversity," Montoya said.