Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia presided over the final round of a mock court at the Law School Monday, drawing a demonstration of pro-affirmative action students voicing their hopes that an expected midsummer ruling will reaffirm the legality of considering race as a factor in university admissions.
Scalia, considered to be an opponent of affirmative action, did not address the hotly debated issue--or any other issues. Instead, he only asked questions, grilling soon-to-be lawyers while peppering the Weymouth Kirkland courtroom with interjections, jokes, and even a spelling correction when a law student misstated a precedent case.
Outside the courtroom where Scalia spoke, protestors gathered around the front of the Law School to show their commitment to supporting affirmative action. Close to 20 students--an equal mix of black and white--held posters and marched in a circle, chanting "they say 'Jim Crow' and we say 'Hell no.'"
"We're picketing Scalia to determine the future of integration," according to Caroline Wong, a national organizer for By Any Means Necessary (BAMN), responsible for putting together the rally. "Affirmative action has desegregated historically white universities, and we want to make clear that the civil rights movement is alive."
For advocates, affirmative action is the spark to rekindle the civil rights movement. Taking up the struggle to increase representation of blacks and poor people, Wong said, also implies a refocusing of efforts against racism.
"This is the first real fight against racism in 30 years," Wong said. "Take the issue of black students stopped by police on campus for example--racism is alive. The new civil rights movement is coming from affirmative action, specifically from fighting unequal conditions in society."
The April 1 hearing of a case concerning affirmative action further electrified the highly charged issue, as critics hope for an overturning of the landmark 1978 Bakke case and supporters worry that overturning affirmative action will end what some view as the most effective tool in equalizing society.
To Cyril Cordor, a student at the University of Michigan and participant in BAMN, a successful campaign to uphold affirmative action is as important as the historic precedent set by Brown v. Board, the landmark case that began to officially desegregate schools.
"This is a question of power--who is oppressed in society," Cordor said. "Privileges are given to whites, almost in the same way as a caste system. We need to look at how resources are distributed in society, and help solve this inequality."
Chicago firmly supports affirmative action, restated publicly February when it filed an amicus curiae brief to the Supreme Court along with several other prestigious universities. Ted O'Neill, dean of admissions, has also publicly endorsed the policy multiple times, though the University's black student population is notably smaller than those of many other colleges.
But Scalia, who became a Supreme Court justice under the Reagan administration, is considered an opponent of liberal "judicial activism" and affirmative action.
Honoring the Law School's centennial, Scalia sat on the three-person judicial panel for the Hinton Moot Court, an annual series of mock trials that give second- and third-years in the Law School the opportunity to improve their writing and oratory skills.
With the 187-seat courtroom packed and an adjacent auditorium seating approximately another 300, University students watched as the four finalists reviewed a case considering the circumstances needed to determine "probable cause," "reasonable suspicion," and consent--issues central in police searches.
According to Ellen Cosgrove, associate dean in the Law School, the case, which discussed United States v. Salwan Yousif, was selected to ensure that Scalia's sentiments concerning affirmative action would not be revealed.
In the case, Yousif was driving with his wife on a Missouri state highway when he saw a sign warning of a drug checkpoint up ahead. He turned off the highway, only to find the checkpoint actually positioned on the service road--with the intention of catching those who wanted to exit the highway and evade the police. At the checkpoint, authorities found six suitcases of marijuana in Yousif's car.
The original decision ruled in favor of Yousif, finding illegal the Missouri police's practice of weeding out possible drug carriers. But here, in the Moot Court, law students presented arguments appealing the ruling.
While listening to the four law students talk, Scalia shifted between leaning far back in his bucket chair and resting his head forward on his hands. Along with U.S. Appeals Court judge Margaret McKeown and lawyer David Kendall, Scalia sliced into the arguments, directing discussion with his questioning and clarification of legal terms.
At one point, a respondent--defending the initial decision in favor of Yousif--was baffled when trying to convincingly express the application of reasonable cause, when Scalia caustically cut in: "He could've had drugs in the car. And you know what? He did."
To Karl Israelsen, a second-year in the law school who watched the court, Scalia's questions were "fairly telling" of his character.
"For his ideological stance, I thought his questions were pretty fair," Israelsen said. "He seemed to be having a good time--a lot of his personal stances came through."
This year's Moot Court was especially popular because of Scalia's presence, and included over 100 law school students in the first round, according to Pete Broadbent, also a second-year in the Law School. Past Moot Courts have included appearances from Supreme Court justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Kennedy, O'Connor, and Thomas.
"Any time there's a Supreme Court justice, there's a big showing," Broadbent said.