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Hundreds of New York-area law students who are passionate supporters of ethnic and racial diversity on campuses will board buses in the wee hours of next Tuesday morning, bound for mass demonstrations outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. Inside, justices will hear oral arguments in Grutter v. Bollinger, marking the first time the high court revisits the constitutionality of affirmative action since its landmark 1978 ruling in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke. For Sarah Lazare, a third-year student at the City University of New York School of Law, the journey will have both personal and professional purpose. As a black girl growing up near Boston, she said, teachers offered her less encouragement than that enjoyed by her white classmates. Nonetheless, Lazare, 33, made it to Smith College, where she earned a degree in higher education administration, and where she taught study skills to minority students. “After my help, and other people’s help, I’ve seen them become excellent students,” Lazare said of the minority pupils she coached. “Our school systems and our people have not been able to overcome the inherent racism that everybody has, and that’s why we need a racial consideration in [campus] admissions.” When she becomes an attorney, she added, “I want to play a role in having students get the educational opportunities they’re supposed to get.” The Tuesday demonstrations in Washington begin with a 4 a.m. to 1 p.m. vigil at One 1st St. NE, directly in front of the Supreme Court building. The vigil is sponsored by the National Lawyers Guild, in concert with dozens of religious groups and labor unions, as well as the Society of American Law Teachers. Sam Brooke, 24, a first-year student at New York University School of Law and an officer of his campus guild chapter, said the vigil would be followed by a march to the Lincoln Memorial and an afternoon rally. “It’s been an active year,” said Brooke, who is also involved in protesting the U.S. invasion of Iraq. “I’ve been down for pretty much all the Washington demonstrations.” Opposing the affirmative action view shared by Brooke and Lazare are, among others, the White House and Judge Danny Boggs of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, who wrote the dissent in the appeals court’s decision in Grutter. The nine-judge appellate panel in Cincinnati ruled 5-4 in Grutter that the defendant University of Michigan School of Law had properly used race as a “plus factor” in its admissions standards, in accordance with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Bakke, which declared racial quotas, per se, to be unconstitutional. In his dissenting opinion, Judge Boggs wrote that “majority applicants are all but summarily rejected with credentials, but not ethnicity, identical to their under-represented minority ‘competitors’ who are virtually guaranteed admission.” President George W. Bush addressed the issue with a January television statement, saying the Michigan policies “amount to a quota system that unfairly rewards or penalizes prospective students based solely on their race.” However, Solicitor General Theodore B. Olson’s brief for the administration challenged the Michigan policy on narrow, state-specific grounds and did not ask the justices to overturn Bakke. The politics of the matter are of concern to Markita S. Morris, a third-year student at NYU Law who took part in a City Hall press conference announcing next week’s demonstrations in Washington. “We’re in a political climate where we’re seeing a roll-back of all the civil rights gains of the Warren Court,” said Morris, 26. “We need activism on a large level. I’m happy to see members of the profession I’ve spent the last three years trying to get in get behind this.” Buses for student demonstrators are scheduled to depart Tuesday from the New York headquarters of the National Lawyers Guild at 143 Madison Avenue, as well as five city and suburban campus locations: Columbia Law School and New York University School of Law in Manhattan, Hofstra University School of Law and Touro Law Center in Long Island, and the City University of New York School of Law in Queens.

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