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
• 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
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.
The Conservative Curmudgeon archives
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
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
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