The War on Equality

Once again, Michigan is ground zero in the battle for fair and equal treatment. I have faith that the nation’s highest court will side with over 2.1 million Michigan voters and overturn eight judges who chose to play politics from the bench.

In June 1995 President Bill Clinton nominated R. Guy Cole Jr. to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. . . and I graduated from high school.


Earlier that year, my dreams had been dashed by a rejection letter from the University of Michigan. I later learned that my rejection was due to discrimination. This week, nearly two decades later, I feel the sting of that discrimination again as Judge Cole and seven of his colleagues declared equality in Michigan unconstitutional.


In 1997, I filed a lawsuit against U-M for racial discrimination in admissions. When I applied to Michigan in 1995, the university had different standards for admission depending on an applicant’s skin color. If you were black, Hispanic, or Native American, you were judged by one standard. If you were white, Asian, or Jewish, you were judged by a separate, higher standard. I believe that discrimination against anyone is wrong and I decided to challenge this policy. Two months after I filed my lawsuit, Barb Grutter filed her own lawsuit against U-M’s law school.


On June 23, 2003, both of our cases were decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. I won my lawsuit. But in her Grutter case opinion, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor delivered us a blow that defied logic.


“We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today,” she wrote.


I chose to continue to fight. The day after our lawsuits were decided, I started the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI), a constitutional amendment that simply asked voters to make it unconstitutional for the state to discriminate against – or grant preferential treatment to – any group or individual on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnic or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education or public contracting.


The 2006 campaign was brutal. The Michigan establishment lined up against the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative. Both Michigan’s Democratic and Republican Parties opposed MCRI. So did Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow. And her Republican challenger,Mike Bouchard. The Catholic Church joined the ACLU in opposition. Not one major newspaper advocated for a “Yes” vote. Ford, Chrysler, GM, and Toyota all helped fund a campaign in which opponents outspent MCRI supporters by a margin of 5:1.


Even Sen. Barack Obama campaigned in Michigan against the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative.


But on election day, when all of the votes were tallied, Michigan voters chose equality and voted for MCRI by a landslide, 16-percent margin. But MCRI opponents would not accept the will of the people.


“If November 7th was the day that Proposal 2 passed, then November 8th is the day that we pledge to remain unified in our fight for diversity,” roared and emotional U-M President Mary Sue Coleman the day after MCRI passed. “Today, I have directed our General Counsel to consider every legal option available to us.”


Coleman’s speech – entitled “Diversity Matters” – was just the directive that the radical group By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) and its cronies (including the ACLU and NAACP) needed to file a lawsuit to overturn the people’s vote. The suit’s basis was Orwellian: BAMN argued that it was discrimination not to have race-based preferences. In other words, universities had to treat applicants unequally by race in order to treat applicants equally based on race.


Fast forward six years. On November 15, 2012, eight judges undid the choice of over 2.1 million Michigan voters and declared MCRI unconstitutional. Clinton-appointee Cole penned the majority opinion: “The existence of such a comparative structural burden undermines the equal protection clause’s guarantee that all citizens ought to have equal access to the tools of political change.”

Equal access to the tools of political change? But any citizen in Michigan can initiate a constitutional amendment. I was 24 when I started the MCRI. I did not have a background in politics. We did not have institutional support. We were outspent by a 5-1 margin. Surely, Judge Cole knows that MCRI’s opponents have the money and manpower to mount their own ballot initiative. But he likely also knows that race-based preferential treatment is unpopular with voters.


But Judge Cole is even more disingenuous when he claims that equality undermines the equal protection clause. It should go without saying that equality is the very essence of the equal protection clause. The court’s disregard for the Constitution should upset us all – regardless of one’s opinion on affirmative action. We are fighting, not just for equal treatment under the law, but also for voter’s voices to be heard.


I am outraged at Cole’s misguided decision – but after 15 years of ups and downs, I have faith that his error will be but a blip in history. It is not blind faith. Michigan Attorney General Schuette says he will appeal the faulty 6th Circuit ruling to the Supreme Court. After all, U-M President Coleman was not the only voice that spoke about MCRI after Election Day, 2006. Former Supreme Court Justice O’Connor – who infamously wrote the majority opinion in Grutter allowing race preferences to continue – was asked what she thought of Michigan’s affirmative MCRI vote.

“It is entirely within the right and privilege of voters,” she replied.


Once again, Michigan is ground zero in the battle for fair and equal treatment. I have faith that the nation’s highest court will side with over 2.1 million Michigan voters and overturn eight judges who chose to play politics from the bench.


Jennifer Gratz was the lead plaintiff in Gratz v. Bollinger, a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case challenging race preferences in college admissions. After prevailing, she led the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative and later mentored others to bring similar ballot initiatives to their states. In 2007, Ms. Gratz received the Reagan Award for Leadership from the American Conservative Union.

Reposted from The Michigan View 

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