Court: Michigan’s ban on affirmative action is unconstitutional

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Courtesy of Detroit Free Press

The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals today declared unconstitutional Michigan’s ban on affirmative action approved by voters in a 2006 ballot initiative.

The majority opinion in a divided court said the state ban on affirmative action violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution by making it more difficult for a minority student to get a university to adopt a race-conscious admissions policy than it is for a white student to get a university to adopt an admissions policy that considers family alumni connections.

“Ensuring a fair political process is nowhere more important than in education,” the court said.

“This is a tremendous victory for students,” said Detroit attorney George Washington, who represented the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action in the case.

“It means that thousands of black students and Latino students will have the chance to go to college they never would have had.”

Attorney General Bill Schuette said today he will appeal the 8-7 decision by the 6th Circuit to the US. Supreme Court.

Proposal 2, which was called the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, “embodies the fundamental premise of what America is all about: equal opportunity under the law,” Schuette said in a news release.

“Entrance to our great universities must be based upon merit. We are prepared to take the fight for quality, fairness and the rule of law to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Proposal 2, the 2006 ballot initiative, was pushed by Jennifer Gratz, who was earlier denied admission to the University of Michigan, and by Ward Connerly, a former University of California regent who backed a similar voter initiative in that state. Michigan voters approved the ban 58% to 42%.

U-M spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said university officials were studying the decision and would comment later today.

U-M has a high stake in today’s ruling. Nearly 10 years ago, the university was involved in a landmark Supreme Court ruling governing race and universities. The high court upheld the U-M law school’s use of race as a consideration in admissions, as long as there was no quotas attached, but threw out the undergraduate admissions system that awarded extra points to African-American, Hispanic and American Indian students

Then Proposition 2 erased U-M’s court victory by banning the state’s universities and other public institutions from considering an applicant’s minority status or gender in their admissions or hiring processes.

Today’s decision does not mean all the battles over using race in admissions to universities is over.

It just means Michigan’s public universities will now join the rest of the nation in watching the U.S. Supreme Court, which earlier this fall heard arguments over a case involving the University of Texas.

The justices are looking at the University of Texas program that is used to help fill the last quarter or so of its incoming freshman classes. Race is one of many factors considered by admissions officers. The rest of the roughly 7,100 freshman spots automatically go to Texans who graduated in the top 8% of their high school classes.

A white Texan, Abigail Fisher, sued the university after she was denied a spot in 2008.

The challengers to the Texas affirmative action plan say they believe the university already has produced significant diversity by automatically offering about three-quarters of its spots to graduates in the top 10% of their Texas high schools, under a 1990s state law signed by then-Gov. George W. Bush. The admissions program has since been changed so that now only the top 8% gain automatic admission. They say additional affirmative action isn’t needed.

In August, U-M joined with other public research institutions in filing an amicus brief in the Fisher v. Texas case before the high court today.

“The brief argues that the Supreme Court should continue to apply the principles outlined in its 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger, which allowed for the consideration of race in the U-M Law School admission policy,” spokesman Fitzgerald said in an e-mail to the Free Press in October.

“The brief makes clear, however, that the university’s admission policy is subject to state law. Therefore, in compliance with Michigan state law, U-M no longer considers race in admissions.”


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