On Thursday, a federal appeals court threw out Michigan’s controversial voter-approved ban on affirmative action in college admissions and public hiring. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled 8-7 that 2006′s “Proposal 2” is unconstitutional because it presented a burden to opponents.
“It means thousands of black and Latino students will now have the chance to go to the most selective colleges and graduate schools, including the University of Michigan,” said George Washington, a Detroit-based lawyer who argued to have the law overturned.
Michigan voters approved Proposal 2, 58 to 42 percent, in November 2006. The amendment forced Michigan State University, the University of Michigan, and other public schools to change their admissions policies to remove the affirmative action component.
This is the second time Proposal 2 has been heard by the 6th Circuit court. In July 2011, a three-judge panel ruled the ban unconstitutional and unfair to minorities. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette appealed that decision and asked for the second rehearing before the full 15-member appeals court, which then rejected his appeal.
“Entrance to our great universities must be based upon merit,” Schuette said in a statement. “We are prepared to take the fight for equality, fairness and the rule of law to the U.S. Supreme Court.” Schuette also said that Proposal 2 – the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative as he called it – “embodies the fundamental premise of what America is all about: equal opportunity under the law.”
The entire debate began as a 1997 class-action lawsuit by Jennifer Gratz, a white woman who was rejected admission into the University of Michigan Law School. The suit, along with two other cases, made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which issued the landmark ruling in 2003 that universities could not use a point-scoring system but could use other ways to consider race in admissions.
Affirmative action opponents, including former California-Berkley regent Ward Connerly, collected enough signatures to put the issue on the Michigan ballot in 2006 and broadened the restrictions by including gender and government hiring. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on a separate affirmative action case in college admissions involving the University of Texas.
Since 2007, admissions of minority students have declined since U of M stopped considering race as a factor in its admissions policies. Mark Rosenbaum, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union who also argued the case, felt that the ruling reaffirmed “the cornerstone principle of our democracy.”
“It restores the argument that race is not to be disadvantaged when universities seek to enroll a diverse student body,” Rosenbaum said. “Somewhere, I’m quite certain [Abraham] Lincoln and Dr. [Martin Luther] King are smiling.”
Follow Jay Scott Smith on Twitter @JayScottSmith