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The Conservative Curmudgeon
November 25, 2008

Ending Racial Preferences: The Michigan Story
by Allan C. Brownfeld

In November 2006, the people of Michigan voted overwhelmingly to end racial preferences. They passed a ballot initiative amending the state constitution to prohibit public institutions from discriminating against or giving preferential treatment to groups or individuals based on race, gender, color, ethnicity, or national origin for public employment, education, or contracting.

In an important new book, Ending Racial Preferences: The Michigan Story (Lexington Books), Carol M. Allen tells the story of how a determined group of civic-minded men and women defeated the entire establishment of the state of Michigan business, labor, education and both Republican and Democratic leaders to move that state toward a genuinely color-blind society. Allen is a research specialist in the Department of Political Science at Michigan State University and program director for Toward A Fair Michigan (TAFM), the organization that advanced the ballot initiative.

In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would take up two Michigan cases: Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger. Both cases began in l997. In October of that year, Jennifer Gratz and Patrick Hamacher filed a class action suit against the University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. The college had automatically added 20 points to the needed undergraduate admissions evaluation score of l00 to applications from black, Hispanic, and Native American students. The plaintiffs charged that the college violated both the Equal Protection Clause of the l4th Amendment and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of l964 when it denied them admission as a result of the unfair use of points for race.

A subsequent study of admissions to the University of Michigan by the Center for Equal Opportunity found that, in terms of probability in 2005, black and Hispanic students with a l240 SAT score and a 3.2 high school GPA had a 90 percent chance of admission, while whites and Asians with similar scores had only a l0 percent chance. These consequences of such a policy are reflected in subsequent academic performance, where blacks and Hispanics earned lower grades, were less likely to be in honors programs, and were more likely to be on academic probation than whites or Asians.

In December l998, Barbara J. Grutter filed a suit against the University of Michigan Law School based on similar violations of her constitutional rights. On December l3, 2000, Judge Patrick Duggan ruled against Gratz and Hamacher. He upheld the constitutionality of the then-current undergraduate admissions policy, even though he determined unconstitutional the policy that had been used from l995 to l998. On March 27, 200l, Judge Bernard A. Friedman ruled in favor of Grutter and judged the admissions policy of the law school to be unconstitutional. Both decisions were appealed.

At the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s vote was the decisive one in the 5-4 ruling upholding the constitutionality of the law school’s admissions policy in Grutter. The opinion was heralded by supporters of preferences for sanctioning the consideration of race as a “plus” factor in admissions for the purpose of achieving a diverse student body. Justice O’Connor’s vote was also decisive in the 6-3 decision against the University of Michigan in Gratz, which reversed the decision of the lower court. Although that decision went against the heavy-handed “20-point” plan used by the university when Gratz and Hamacher were denied admission, the decision in Grutter left open the possibility that a more subtle consideration of race would be permissible.

Those in Michigan such as Carol Allen; her husband William B. Allen, professor of political science at Michigan State University and former Chairman of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission; and Carl Cohen, professor of philosophy at the University of Michigan, who opposed the University’s race-based admissions policy sought to reverse what they perceived as a form of “reverse racism.” They observed the example of California, where in l996, the citizens of that state approved the California Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI, also called Proposition 209) by a margin of 54 percent to 46 percent. This was the first successful effort within the U.S. to outlaw affirmative action preferences in the public sector through a constitutional amendment enacted directly by the people.

“This book,” writes Allen, “tells the story of what happened in Michigan between the beginning of 2004 and the end of 2006. It focuses on the work carried out by Toward A Fair Michigan (TAFM) to elevate the discussion about racial preferences and even to enable there to be any meaningful discussion about racial preferences… in the politically charged context of the campaigns for and against the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI)....”

Opposition groups did everything to prevent the initiative from reaching the ballot. Meetings were disturbed; petition signatures were challenged; even the wording of the proposition itself came under legal challenge as “deceptive.” Supporters of the initiative who were black, such as Professor William B. Allen, came under particularly harsh attack.

MCRI turned in 508,202 signatures nearly 200,000 more than the 3l7,757 required and the largest number of signatures ever collected for a Michigan constitutional amendment.

Debates took place across Michigan. Making the case against race-based programs, Professor Carl Cohen stated that, “The MCRI says simply that our state, Michigan, ‘shall not discriminate against or grant preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.’ That’s all. That is essentially the substance of the Civil Rights Act of l964, which we all support. The two are identical by design.”

Racial preferences, Professor Cohen argued, have a negative impact on minority students: “Every fine black scholar is sabotaged by race preference. All the achievements of black students are put under a cloud, undone by skepticism.”

Among the kinds of damage done to our society by preferences, declared Cohen, are these:

• Preference divides the society in which it is awarded; it separates rather than heals.
• Preference excuses admitted racial discrimination for the sake of achieving some political advantages.
• Preference corrupts the universities in which it is practiced, sacrificing intellectual values and creating pressures to discriminate by race even in grading and in appointments, for example, to law reviews.
• Preference reduces incentives for academic excellence and encourages separatism among racial and ethnic minorities.

Despite the fact that Michigan's entire political and business establishment opposed Proposition 2, the citizens of Michigan gave resounding support to the proposition; 58 percent voted “yes” on November 7, 2006.

At the MCRI victory party, Ward Connerly, who has led the campaign against affirmative action nationwide, declared that, “Nobody lost tonight.” He told celebrants that no one loses when citizens stand up for principle, and he reminded the small gathering of the faithful that there is nothing “as powerful as an idea whose time has come.” Jennifer Gratz proclaimed the people of Michigan the winners: “They stood up to big business, big labor, to the entire establishment and said ‘we want to be treated equally.

This book is a testimonial to the fact that committed citizens can make a difference. Carol Allen shows us that dedication to principle and hard work can defeat an entrenched establishment and move our society in the direction of genuine color-blindness, in which men and women will be judged on the basis of their own individual merit rather than on the basis of race, ethnic origin, or gender. The victory of this philosophy will be a victory for all of us.

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The Conservative Curmudgeon is copyright © 2008 2008 by Allan C. Brownfeld and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, www.fgfBooks.com. All rights reserved. Editors may use this column if this copyright information is included.

Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. Vice President, Members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Subcommittee.

He is associate editor of The Lincoln Reveiw and a contributing editor to such publications as Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

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© 2008 Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation