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Two Supreme Court Decisions May Create Favorable Climate For Immigrants

by Cyrus D. Mehta

Two landmark Supreme Court decisions earlier this week may facilitate a better climate for diversity in the US, which in turn could lead to a more favorable attitude toward immigrants in the long run.

In the first decision, Grutter v Bollinger et al (June 23, 2003), the Supreme Court upheld the Michigan Law School's policy of achieving student diversity by giving weight to an applicant's ethnicity, particularly African-American, Hispanic and Native American, who otherwise might not be represented in the student body.

The Supreme Court deferred to Michigan Law School's educational judgment that such diversity is essential to its educational mission. The law school argued that as part of its goal of "assembling a class that is both exceptionally academically qualified and broadly diverse" it seeks to "enroll a ‘critical mass' of minority students." Such a policy, according to the law school, helps to break down racial stereotypes, and enables students to better understand different races. The law school also argued that classroom discussion is livelier, more spirited, and simply more enlightening and interesting when the students have the greatest possible variety of backgrounds.

Interestingly, this decision was bolstered by "friends of the court" briefs from major US corporations and other organizations. The Supreme Court observed that "major American businesses have made clear that the skills needed in today's increasingly global marketplace can only be developed through exposure to widely diverse people, cultures, ideas, and viewpoints." Several corporations such as General Motors and Microsoft filed such briefs. Even the US military filed a friend of the court brief indicating that "a highly qualified, racially diverse officer corps…is essential to the military's ability to fulfill its principle mission to provide national security."

The Supreme Court's ruling in favor of diversity recognizes that educational institutions, businesses and other organizations can only succeed in today's global environment through the incorporation of diverse people, their ideas and their viewpoints. Diversity can also be achieved by broadening immigration categories, which in turn would enable US educational institutions to enroll and corporations to employ a diverse group of people from around the world.

In a second decision, Lawrence v. Texas (June 26, 2003), the Supreme Court struck down Texas's sodomy law and gave gay people a historic victory. The challenge to Texas's sodomy law was brought by two men who were convicted of engaging in "deviate sexual intercourse" in a private home. John Geddes Lawrence and Tyron Garner argued that the law denied them equal protection by criminalizing sexual acts of same sex couples that were legal for different sex couples. The Supreme Court upheld their claim that criminalizing their private sexual acts deprived them of their liberty and privacy rights.

Although the Supreme Court could have ruled on relatively narrow equal protective grounds, it went further by holding that any anti-sodomy law violates gay people's liberty rights. According to Justice Anthony Kennedy's majority opinion, the case is really about gay people's ability to maintain personal relationships. As he eloquently put it: "When sexuality finds overt expression in intimate conduct with another person, the conduct can be but one element in a personal bond that is enduring. The liberty protected by the Constitution allows homosexual persons the right to make this choice."

Although it is too early to say how profound an impact this decision will have, gay rights advocates will no doubt cite this decision in employment discrimination and gay adoption cases. This opinion may also provide a basis for upholding gay marriages.

Many gay immigrants who are in a close relationship with US citizens are unable to take the advantage of same laws that would apply to different sex couples. For example, a US citizen cannot sponsor a same sex partner for a green card today or get other immigration benefits like dependant nonimmigrant visa status. It is hoped that this decision will broaden gay rights to allow same sex marriages or similar kinds of unions, and thus lead to the ability of a gay US citizen to sponsor a non-citizen partner for a green card and other immigration benefits.

Although the cases are not related to immigration directly, they may provide the foundation for future challenges against restrictive immigration measures.

About The Author

Cyrus D. Mehta, a graduate of Cambridge University and Columbia Law School, practices immigration law in New York City. He is First Vice Chair of the American Immigration Law Foundation and recipient of the 1997 Joseph Minsky Young Lawyers Award. He is also Chair of the Immigration and Nationality Law Committee of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. He frequently lectures on various immigration subjects at legal seminars, workshops and universities and may be contacted at 212-425-0555 or

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.