The University of Michigan is preparing to fight a pair of lawsuits, one of which has been brought by a white student who claims to have been denied a place at Michigan's law school while less qualified applicants with lesser qualifications were admitted.
The Supreme Court has received more than 60 other amicus briefs in support of Michigan University's policies, which represent the interests of 300 organisations, including 100 universities.
Professor Laurence Tribe, who drafted a brief on behalf of Harvard Law School, said 'affirmative action' admission policies, which use race as a plus factor over test results, were "enormously valuable educationally".
He added: "They bring to law schools a degree of realism and perspective otherwise impossible to attain. The lesson that racial differences are at times only skin deep may be of lasting value in breaking down racial prejudices and in teaching students the crucial skills they will need if they are to succeed as lawyers."
Opponents of affirmative action, including President George Bush, have filed Supreme Court briefs in favour of race-neutral policies. But Michigan University president Mary Sue Coleman said studies show these policies have "serious flaws". "Believing we can ignore race might be wishful thinking but it is not real life," she said in a statement.
Hundreds of law students, including the National Black Law Students Association, are planning a protest march in Washington on 1 April, the day the Supreme Court hearing is scheduled to start.