MIT's chief legal officer offers insights on joint amicus brief

Massachusetts colleges argued that executive order hurts schools' mission

Following the executive order barring entry to the U.S. from several countries, MIT filed an amicus curae brief to provide the court with perspective on how the ban affects institutions of higher learning.

Though a Seattle circuit court ruled that the ban could not be enforced, the debate surrounding the legality of the executive order is ongoing. MIT’s amicus brief may be used to provide federal courts with perspective on the impact of the order.

The brief intentionally did not present any legal arguments. “We filed a friend of the court brief,” Mark DiVincenzo, chief legal officer for MIT, said in an interview with The Tech. “We didn’t make legal arguments — whether the order was constitutional or discriminatory. That’s up to the parties in the lawsuit. What we wanted to do was make sure the judge, in making those legal decisions, understood the impact the decisions may be both long term and short term on universities.”

Asked about MIT’s goal in filing the brief, DiVincenzo emphasized that the brief wasn’t meant to simply argue against the executive order in the long-term. Rather, he believes each case was likely focused on providing short-term relief for the plaintiffs, who were temporarily detained. “You either had people detained at an airport, or unable to get on a plane,” DiVincenzo said. “In my opinion, the parties filed lawsuits much more to try to get relief from this order in an immediate fashion, rather than focusing on ultimately winning the case down the road.”

The brief argued that the order hampered the dissemination of knowledge and advancement of research, both critical to each school’s mission. The brief stated that after the order was passed, numerous academics expressed reluctance to accept faculty positions in the United States, and some scholars signed a petition to boycott conferences in the United States.

An MIT Class of 2021 prefrosh from Syria, whose future at MIT is now uncertain, was quoted in the brief saying, “My dreams are basically ruined.”

The brief pointed out that international students have offered their peers diversity in perspectives. For example, Syrian students at MIT helped “contribute to their peers’ understanding of the wide-ranging consequences of the war in Syria in a way no textbook or lecture ever could.”

The brief also made financial arguments, stating that immigrants create startups that contribute to America’s GDP.  For example, the brief states that if Abdul Fattah Jandali — Steve Jobs’ father — had not been allowed to come to the U.S. from Syria, the American economy would be quite different.

MIT filed the brief in collaboration with several other Massachusetts colleges, including Harvard and Boston University.

“The situation was a little unique in that we knew the lawsuit was going to go at a very quick pace,” DiVincenzo said. “We had to work really fast and figure out what were the important issues we wanted to raise and how we could raise them succinctly in our brief.”

MIT, along with several colleges across the nation including the University of Chicago, Columbia, Princeton, and Stanford also filed another amicus curae brief for a New York federal district court ruling on the executive order.