Thursday, December 21, 2006

Michigan Civil Rights Groups File Lawsuit to Halt the Implementation of Anti-Affirmative Action Proposal

Rights groups file Prop 2 lawsuit

December 20, 2006

On the same day the University of Michigan won a reprieve that will allow it to continue considering race in the fall admissions process, civil rights organizations filed a lawsuit Tuesday aiming to make the reprieve permanent.

At issue is Proposal 2, the anti-affirmative action amendment to Michigan's Constitution. The amendment takes effect Friday.

Civil rights organizations, including the NAACP's Detroit chapter and the American Civil Liberties Union, took their case to federal court. They argued the amendment doesn't apply because of a 2003 U.S. Supreme Court case affirming universities' right to consider race in admissions.

"We have come too far to allow the doors of opportunity to be shut in the face of the American promise of liberty and justice," Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit branch of the NAACP, said Tuesday at a news conference on the steps of U.S. District Court in Detroit.

But a Washington-based group that has fought against race and gender preferences said the U.S. Supreme Court already decided the issue when it chose not to hear a challenge to California's Proposition 209, which was passed by voters in 1996. The California law was the model for Proposal 2.

An appellate panel in that case found that "nobody has a right to a racial preference; a state can decide it doesn't want them," said Terence Pell of the Center for Individual Rights. The same group filed papers Tuesday to appeal Judge David Lawson's order affirming a deal among the state's three largest universities -- U-M, Michigan State University and Wayne State University-- and Attorney General Mike Cox. The deal grants the schools a delay until 2007-08 in putting Proposal 2's mandates in effect for admissions and financial aid.

Pell's organization is representing Eric Russell, a Wayne State University graduate student who is applying to U-M Law School.

Neither the parties to the suit nor the federal court has the authority "to second guess Michigan voters," Pell said.

The schools had argued that because they were in the middle of the application and admission process for fall 2007 and many students already have been accepted that it would have been unfair to subject different students in the same class to different admissions and financial aid criteria.

If Lawson's ruling stands, current high school juniors would be the first students impacted by the implementation of Proposal 2.

Cox spokesman Rusty Hills defended the agreement, which he said was narrowly tailored to allow the universities to complete processing applications for 2007-08 without challenging Proposal 2 directly.

State Rep. Leon Drolet, R-Clinton Township, one of the ballot proposal's chief backers, said he is "stunned that the universities couldn't find a way to comply with the will of the people." But giving up their underlying challenge could help, he said, if the universities "live up to their end of the bargain."

Butch Hollowell, an attorney speaking on behalf of the civil rights groups that filed Tuesday's lawsuit, said it focuses on the University of Michigan because of the school's excellent educational reputation and the 2003 case.

"Ultimately, this could get to the U.S. Supreme Court," Hollowell said.

In 2003, the Supreme Court found U-M's previous admissions system that awarded points to underrepresented minorities -- African Americans, Hispanics and American Indians -- was unconstitutional. But it ruled that race may be among factors considered in the admissions process.

Sheldon Johnson, 20, a U-M junior, echoed two U-M professors who said Tuesday that affirmative action in admissions not only helps diversify the students, but gives them exposure to people and perspectives that can help them navigate the world after they graduate.

"That's what this is really about, opportunity," he said.

The NAACP's Anthony said the challenge isn't meant to defy Michigan citizens who voted 58% to 42% in favor of Proposal 2, which bans race and gender-based preferences in university admissions and government hiring and contracting.

The case is meant to force an interpretation of the law, Anthony said.

He added that under the current admissions policy, U-M may consider whether an applicant is the child of an alum or from specific parts of the state, therefore race and gender should be retained, he said.

Contact CHASTITY PRATT at 313-223-4537

No comments: