men who would end affirmative action
is next target for outspoken crusaders
BY PEGGY WALSH-SARNECKI
Free Press Education Writer
-- When, in 1994, Michael Greve and Michael McDonald wanted to
make a point about politically correct speech, they successfully
defended a University of New Hampshire professor accused of verbal
harassment which included comments linking belly dancers to Jell-O.
celebrated their victory by throwing a campus-wide Jell-O party.
Today, the pair is suing the University of Michigan over its use
of race in admissions to the law school and undergraduate College
of Literature, Science and Arts. Legal experts say the lawsuit
is likely to come to trial during the coming school year.
Since McDonald and Greve founded the Washington, D.C.-based Center
for Individual Rights in 1989, they have been working diligently
and often irreverently to get the country back on the right track
-- the political right, that is.
guys are conservatives, almost libertarians. Their motto is less
government is better. A lot less would be a lot better.
They are the newest darlings of the conservatives, thanks to their
success at whittling away at affirmative action and politically
correct speech, one lawsuit at a time.
No other conservative group is taking on as many free speech and
affirmative action cases, about a dozen a year, their supporters
"The term I like to use for organizations like them, and there
really aren't many of them, are 'do tanks,' rather than a think
tank," said William Alpert, senior program officer for the New
York City-based Donner Foundation, one of CIR's financial backers.
McDonald and Greve are winning financial support along with their
legal battles. CIR's budget was $220,000 the year the group started,
mostly in grants from a handful of conservative foundations. By
1997, the budget had grown to $1.32 million, including more than
$1 million from 11 conservative foundations.
opponents, however, are almost uniformly reluctant to give them
that much credit, at times almost choking in their search to find
polite ways to describe them. Some, including the University of
Michigan, simply won't talk about them. Those that do are reluctant
to call them major players on a national scale.
"I don't sense anyone ascribing major power to this law firm,"
said James Vick, vice president for student affairs at the University
of Texas. "They are bringing cases to the courts ...it's the courts
that are making the decisions."
University of Texas was the scene of one of CIR's more famous
victories when they represented Cheryl Hopwood, a white woman,
who sued the law school for reverse discrimination.
The 1996 Hopwood victory was a first step toward achieving one
of McDonald's and Greve's goals, which is to get the Supreme Court
to strike down affirmative action.
They see affirmative action and minority set-asides as government
micromanaging and tinkering.
Government has no business manipulating racial issues, Greve said.
"We have problems when we treat race as a proxy for disadvantage,"
Being black is not a disadvantage and being white is not an advantage,
"It's an intensely controversial issue and it goes to people's
deeply held beliefs, and that's why you don't want the government
playing games with it. You have to force the government to be
Minorities can get into college without affirmative action by
attending less competitive colleges, he said.
They have been so far out front in taking some of these issues
to court, that even their fellow conservatives are occasionally
are some people on our side of the political fence for whom this
is really tough," Greve said. This has been especially true when
they first took on the Hopwood case, although that criticism has
been abated by their success.
we could win legitimized it," Greve said. "When we started up
five years ago, this issue was somewhat gauche. Even hard-core
conservatives said, 'Oh, come on, can't you leave that alone?'
Ted Shaw, legal counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, said
CIR is not only being cynical about minority students, it is also
cynically using the white students on whose behalf it is filing
these anti-affirmative action lawsuits.
maintained that the white students named in the lawsuits would
not have gotten into these schools, even without affirmative action.
they've done is take white, working-class people who would be
getting jammed anyway and use them as blunt instruments to attack
affirmative action," Shaw said of McDonald and Greve.
University of Michigan became vulnerable, McDonald and Greve said,
when it announced the Michigan Mandate in 1990, which outlines
specific diversity goals for the university. They said these goals
amount to almost a quota -- a charge the university has repeatedly
McDonald and Greve said they didn't go after U-M, rather the U-M
case came to them when four conservative Republican lawmakers
asked them to take it. They did, however, have the luxury of picking
the strongest case from a list of about 100 potential Michigan
clients collected for them by the state lawmakers.
lawmakers included Deborah Whyman of Canton Township, David Jaye
of Washington Township, Greg Kaza of Rochester Hills and Michelle
McManus of Lake Leelanau.
"We were not going to get anywhere through the legislative process,"
Kaza said. "It was clear if we were going to get anywhere it was
through the court process."
Why choose CIR? "They're the best group out there on this issue.
They have a great record. They have a reputation in the conservative
movement. And they were less likely to be intimidated by the clout
that U-M has in the state of Michigan."
lawsuits, filed last October, charge that U-M denied admission
to the white students suing the university, while admitting minorities
with lower grade point averages and test scores.
the plaintiffs in the undergraduate lawsuit are attending school
elsewhere: Jennifer Gratz is a senior at U-M Dearborn and Patrick
Hamacher is a sophomore at Michigan State University. Barbara
Grutter, the plaintiff in the law school case, continues to operate
a health care information consulting firm out of her home in Plymouth.
isn't CIR's only target. The group is also suing the University
of Washington law school over its use of affirmative action in
CIR is working to end race-based scholarships -- for whites --
at historically black Alabama A&M University. CIR successfully
defended California's Proposition 209, which bans affirmative
action, when it was challenged in the Supreme Court.
affirmative action in universities has caught the media's attention,
CIR has a much broader agenda. It has fought affirmative action
in hiring and contracting.
CIR also has taken on free speech cases. It won a case in 1994
forcing the University of Virginia to fund a religious student
magazine and, in 1993, successfully defended a fraternity that
had been punished by George Mason University after an offensive
meeting of minds
and Greve get excited just talking about their mission. Neither
comes from a family tied to the American power structure. McDonald,
a lawyer, grew up in Maryland. His family was solidly blue-collar;
his father was a foreman, his grandparents coal miners.
Greve, a political scientist, was born in Hamburg, Germany, where
his father was a lawyer. He was interested in politics but didn't
think the German political structure left room for an outsider
to come in and shake things up. He came to the United States in
1981 as a Fulbright scholar and fell in love with the country
-- he's working toward getting American citizenship.
They met when they were working for the Washington Legal Defense
Fund. McDonald ran a one-man shop working on First Amendment cases.
Greve helped raise money for the foundation.
The organization was changing direction, focusing more on publishing
and less on litigation, and Greve and McDonald preferred a good
court fight to writing conservative treatises. They were 32, ready
to take a risk, and decided to open CIR as a conservative public
interest law firm.
McDonald and Greve have a very calculated and well-defined game
plan, which is largely modeled on successful strategies used by
lawyers were doing pro bono work to help liberal causes, Greve
said. There were conservatives willing to do pro bono work but
no one was tapping into these resources, he said.
also decided to narrowly focus their efforts on free speech and
civil rights issues. Ten years ago, most conservative groups were
trying to embrace all conservative causes, Greve said. McDonald
and Greve decided that specializing in a narrow niche had a better
chance of success.
at the hunt
the courts, instead of the legislatures, to change the law is
a tactic perfected a half century ago by the NAACP, when the civil
rights group set out to knock down the doctrine of separate but
In one sense, it's a very predatory way to work: Hunting for the
most vulnerable among a narrow list of civil rights and free speech
cases, doing the background legwork and then turning the case
over to a high-priced law firm willing to donate its time to win
In any case, it apparently works.
and Greve, using CIR, have racked up a win-loss record that would
make a rookie bookie rich. They have taken on about a dozen cases
a year since they founded CIR and can only count about seven losses
-- four cases of their own and three other cases in which they
participated by filing briefs supporting what ended up being the
That record is at least partly due to the care they put into picking
cases. They don't waste time with cases they don't think they
can win, and always pick cases that can set a legal precedent.
like universities as targets because the schools can't settle
out of court without abandoning their policies, McDonald and Greve
idea of taking on the country's bastions of higher education has
a secondary appeal to McDonald and Greve. They nurse an obvious
disdain for university officials, whom they say are the worst
offenders in the kind of social meddling that makes their conservative/libertarian
hackles stand on end.
"The universities have become social engineers par excellence,"
McDonald said, calling this post-1960s liberalism "gone wild."
'You're dealing with people who think they're beyond being questioned,"
nodded vigorously. "The defense of affirmative action is so overblown,
so moralistic and has so little to do with how these systems actually
operate, that you have to puncture that balloon," he said.
and biting humor
it all, Greve and McDonald have maintained a tongue-in-cheek sense
of humor about their work that is usually outrageous, and some
think downright offensive.
of this humor comes out in the Docket Report, a monthly newsletter
written by Greve. It reads like a cross between a "Saturday Night
Live" TV script and conservative propaganda sheet.
"In May, the President contrived to extract from the head of a
sovereign nation (Israel) the White House admission price commonly
charged to interns: on your knees," Greve began the May issue.
asked about the name-calling and flip remarks, Greve feigned shock.
"We don't call people names," he said, his face a study in earnestness.
Then he burst out laughing. "Well, maybe windbag or gasbag."
It's not name-calling, McDonald loyally pointed out. "Those are
characterizations," he deadpanned. The pair plays off each other's
humor like a well-rehearsed sitcom team.
"You cannot sustain a tone of outrage. You'd constantly be flapping
your wings and sound completely over the cliff," Greve said. "We
do think there's a place for sarcasm in all of this."
sarcasm and flip remarks irritate their opponents the most. Those
on the other side often find this cavalier, even arrogant.
once characterized them to a newspaper as being puerile, during
the course of the Hopwood litigation," said Samuel Issacharoff,
a professor at U-T's law school who worked on the Hopwood case.
"They treated every institutional actor they came into contact
with, with utter and unbridled contempt, and that includes some
very distinguished leaders in the education community."
Issacharoff said he thinks success has had a mellowing effect.
"I think the victory they obtained in Hopwood raised their profile
dramatically and forced them to confront, albeit partially, some
of the hard issues involved in the affirmative action question,"
he said. "I think there has been a more reasoned tone to their
the end, opponents of McDonald and Greve tend to grit their teeth
and ignore the sarcasm.
"My own view is that it's inappropriate and unseemly for an organization
that is trying to position itself to be a major player on important
issues like this to adopt that kind of tone," said Shaw, of the
NAACP Legal Defense Fund. "But that is their decision. At the
end of the day, I'm more concerned about the substantive policies."
Peggy Walsh-Sarnecki can be reached at 1-313-223-4537.
Walsh-Sarnecki, Peggy. "The men who would end affirmative action." Free Press. 25 Aug 1998. For fee$ http://nl.newsbank.com/nl-search/we/Archives?p_action=keyword&s_search_type=keyword&p_product=FP&p_theme=gannett&s_site=freep ID: 9808250067