Michigan Anti-Affirmative-Action Law Overturned by Federal Appeals Court

A U.S. appeals court declared unconstitutional an amendment to Michigan’s state constitution that barred its public colleges including the University of Michigan and Michigan State University from considering race, gender or ethnicity in admissions.

The voter-initiated amendment, known as Proposal 2, took effect in December 2006, according to the Cincinnati-based appellate panel, in the wake of two 2003 U.S. Supreme Court rulings that said while universities couldn’t establish racial group quotas, they could consider race, ethnicity and other factors.

“We find that Proposal 2 unconstitutionally alters Michigan’s political structure by impermissibly burdening racial minorities,” the appellate court majority said today.

The 2-1 ruling reversed a lower court decision in favor of the governing bodies for the state schools including Wayne State University in Detroit. The University of Michigan is in Ann Arbor. Michigan State is located in East Lansing.

Dissenting, U.S. Circuit Judge Julia Smith Gibbons said she didn’t find that the amendment impermissibly altered the state’s political process and affirmed its lawfulness under the U.S. Constitution.

The Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigration Rights and Fight for Equality by Any Means Necessary, a Detroit-based civil rights organization, filed a lawsuit challenging Proposal 2 in that city’s federal courthouse in that in Nov. 2006.

‘Great Victory’

“It’s a great victory for students and for the new civil rights movement,” attorney and organization chairwoman Shanta Driver said today in a press statement after the ruling was released.

The decision, Driver said, means thousands of black, Latino and Native American students “will now have the chance to receive an education at the state’s best universities.”

Writing for the two-person majority, U.S. Circuit Judge R. Guy Cole said an equal protection violation was created when Proposal 2’s proponents took away state schools authority to institute “racially focused” policies and “lodged it in at the most remote level of Michigan’s government, the state constitution,” effectively putting the issue out of the political reach of those who favored such policies.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, in a press statement, said he will seek reversal of the appeals court decision.

‘Based Upon Merit’

“Entrance to our great universities must be based upon merit and I will continue the fight for equality, fairness and rule of law,” Schuette said in a press statement.

Jennifer Gratz, whose 1997 lawsuit over the University of Michigan’s admissions policies led to one of the 2003 Supreme Court rulings cited in today’s appellate ruling, called the two- judge majority opinion “insanity,” and said she was confident it would be overturned.

Gratz, 33, campaigned for adoption of Proposal 2 and now works for the American Civil Rights Institute in Sacramento, California, which describes its mission as educating the public on “the harms of racial and gender preferences.”

“The U.S. Supreme Court has already approved this process and said the ultimate rule is with the voting public of each state,” she said. “Judges don’t get to legislate from the bench and overturn the will of the people.”

Amendment Upheld

U.S. District Judge David M. Lawson, in a March 2008 decision, upheld the amendment to the state’s constitution.

“Proposal 2 allows universities to use neutral criteria — grades, test scores, schools of origin, community geographics, economic factors, and a host of others — in the admissions process,” Lawson wrote.

“If these factors are not suitable proxies that generate racially diverse student populations, the universities will be all the poorer, but not because of conscious discrimination.” He added.

The case is Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigrant Rights v. Regents of the University of Michigan, 08-1387, 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (Cincinnati).




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