College of Education's Garces files amicus curiae in Supreme Court case

Liliana Garces, assistant professor of education and research associate at the Center for the Study of Higher Education, served as counsel of record for the Civil Rights Project at UCLA in an amicus curiae, or friend of the court, brief filed for a case that was argued last week before the United States Supreme Court.

The case, Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action et al., examined the constitutionality of a Michigan ban on affirmative action. Specifically called Proposal 2, the referendum was designed to overturn affirmative action plans at the University of Michigan and other universities in Michigan and to insert that prohibition into the state constitution.

Last November the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals struck it down.

As counsel of record, Garces, who earned a law degree at the University of Southern California School of Law, was the author of the brief and oversaw the official filing to the Supreme Court.

“I felt like a translator of sorts. Translating the legal framework to the social scientists. Here are the legal issues, here’s the evidence that would be relevant and why. And then summarizing the social science evidence in a way that would be understood by a legal audience.”

Amicus curiae briefs are those filed by individuals or organizations that have an interest in the outcome of a case, but aren’t directly involved in the lawsuit.

Garces represented the Civil Rights Project by presenting findings from research studies she, and others, conducted that support the sixth circuit’s decision for why Proposal 2 is unconstitutional. It’s not the first time she has participated in a case at the Supreme Court level.

Garces has now served as counsel of record in three amicus curiae briefs for the Supreme Court, including last year’s Fisher v. University of Texas and a previous case involving the constitutionality of K-12 voluntary desegregation policies.

In the oral arguments for Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action et al., Garces included a couple of her own published research articles.

“For this last brief, it was a couple of articles that I had published that were relevant to a section of the brief related to the impact that affirmative action bans have had on the enrollment of students of color in graduate fields,” she said. “The findings were relevant in the case to show the consequences that banning affirmative action has had on questions of access and opportunity for students of color.”

During oral arguments, however, one of the justices seemed to be lending credence to claims that have been rejected by research.

“This is the mismatch theory, the hypothesis that affirmative action programs harm minorities. That’s a theory that has been invalidated by the overwhelming amount of social science evidence that’s out there. In fact, the evidence to the contrary is clear and consistent. Yet, it was still something that came up during oral arguments,” Garces said.

“The CRP filed the brief in the case because it was concerned about the possible misapplication of research findings and reliance on claims that run counter to the weight of the social science evidence. The exchange reinforced the importance of our brief in the case.”

How the court rules, and it may not be until June 2014 that a decision is rendered, could affect Garces’ future research.

“It probably will,” she said. “In the Fisher case, we didn’t anticipate a 7-1 opinion. The case was remanded to the lower court, and I’m helping to bring information from social science evidence that would be relevant to those deliberations, while also thinking about the possible open questions that the case has left for us to address.”

Last Updated October 28, 2013