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ADL Amicus Brief for DeFunis Affirmative Action Case


In 1971, Marco DeFunis, a white (Jewish) man, applied to the Washington University Law School and was denied admission. Some "minority students" with similar test scores and grades were admitted. DeFunis, his wife, and parents brought a suit against the school claiming that he had been discriminated against. The original trial found in DeFunis' favor, but the Supreme Court of Washington reversed the decision. Because DeFunis was Jewish and affirmative action was a heated issue in the Jewish community at the time, the case attracted a great deal of attention from Jewish organizations and the Jewish press—with a range of viewpoints expressed both in favor of and in opposition to affirmative action policies. In 1974, the case came before the Supreme Court and the Anti-Defamation League submitted a brief supporting the original decision. Below is an excerpt from that brief.

Brief of Anti-Defamation League as Amicus Curiae in support of Marco DeFunis, et al., Excerpt

The task of filling these 145 places was delegated to an admission committee consisting of five faculty members and two students… By means of a formula combining the law school admissions test score and the applicant’s junior and senior year college grade averages, a law school predicted first year average is established.

With very few exceptions, and almost always with no further consideration, the admissions committee in 1971 admitted applicants whose predicted first year average was 77 or above. The files of applicants whose predicted first year average was below 74.5 and who were not black Americans, Chicano Americans, native American Indians or Philippine Americans [called “minority students”] were examined by the chairman of the admission committee alone. In the overwhelming majority of cases, these applications were rejected by the chairman without further recourse…That left a residual category of applications, which was divided into two groups: those showing predicted first-year averages between 76.99 and 74.5 for applicants who were not …[“minority students”] – the group in which DeFunis was included, with a score of 76.23; and those showing that the applicant was a …[“minority student”] with a predicted first year average below 76.99 as well as below 74.5… The second group, although forming part of the same residual category, was treated distinctly and separately.

…Files in this separately treated group of …[“minority students”] were compared with each other and not with the rest of the applications passed upon by the committee or by its chairman individually.

By this method, the trial court found, 44 … [“minority students”] were offered admission to the law school, the vast majority of whom had lower predicted first-year averages than that of DeFunis, and some of whom, had they been white, would have had their applications summarily denied, presumably by exercise of the function delegated to the chairman of the admissions committee…

The justification for this policy, as the dean stated it, was that the minority racial and ethnic groups whom the Law School now sought to provide with a “reasonable representation” were those which has been “historically suppressed and excluded from participation in what might be thought of, I suppose, the main stream of our society, and certainly in participation in the legal arena.” The stated assumption underlying the policy was that these groups had been and were now culturally and economically disadvantaged, and that the usual method of evaluating applicants were consequently less than usually accurate with respect to them. But there is no pretense in this record that the assumption of cultural and economic disadvantage as applied to any particular individual applicants rested on anything but his race.


Ann Fagen, ed. DeFunis versus Odegaard and the University of Washington; the university admissions case: the record, vol. 1 (Dobbs Ferry: Oceana Publications, 1974),1082; 1088-1089.

Discussion Questions

  1. Review: Who wrote this document? When was it written?
  2. What audience was this document written for? How might that have influenced its content and format?
  3. In what way were minority groups given an advantage over white applicants? What was the reason for using different criteria for judging these applicants?
  4. According to the Amicus Curiae "there is no pretense in this record that the assumption of cultural and economic disadvantage as applied to any particular individual applicants rested on anything but his race." Why was this significant? What is the Amicus Curiae implying was a problem with the University's admission policy?
  5. Why do you think the Anti-Defamation League issued this brief on the side of DeFunis? Do you think they were correct in doing so? Why or why not?
  6. If you were in charge of designing a just and equitable admissions policy for a university, what would it look like and why?

Teaching Preparation

Your group will be teaching another group what you have learned about Jewish positions on affirmative action. Be prepared to share the following:

  1. Background about your document.
  2. An explanation of what the document is about (in your own words).
  3. The new tensions between Jews and African Americans that you see reflected in these documents. How Jews reacted.
  4. How this issue is or is not still relevant today, and why.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "ADL Amicus Brief for DeFunis Affirmative Action Case." (Viewed on January 16, 2018) <>.


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