6th Circuit Court Says Black And Latino Students Can Join Michigan Affirmative Action Cases
A three-judge panel of the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled, earlier this month, to allow Black and Latino students to become defendants in two lawsuits challenging the University of Michigan’s affirmative action admissions policies. The ruling reverses two prior decisions by a federal district court in Michigan that had barred minority students from becoming defendants in the cases.
In 1997, plaintiffs in Gratz v. Bollinger et al. and Grutter v. Bollinger et al. sued the University of Michigan over race-sensitive admissions policies they claim led to their being denied admission to the University of Michigan undergraduate college and the law school. The plaintiffs are White and charge that Michigan’s admissions policies are racially discriminatory.
In both cases, affirmative action proponents, including the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, petitioned the federal district court in eastern Michigan to allow Black and Latino students to become defendants in the case. The motions to intervene in the Michigan cases marked a strategic move by the civil rights community to argue that the lawsuits represented a grave threat to educational access for Black and Latino students.
In Gratz v. Bollinger et al., the undergraduate case, 17 minority students were seeking to become defendants “because the suit directly threatens their access to their state’s flagship public institution of higher education and….. may diminish their access and college and universities throughout the state of Michigan,” according to the motion filed on the students’ behalf.
In Grutter v. Bollinger et al., a total of 41 students have sought to be defendants in the case, which will determine whether the University of Michigan law school discriminated against White plaintiffs.
The district court in both cases ruled against motions by the proposed defendants-intervenors, arguing that the University of Michigan “could adequately represent the proposed intervenors’ interests”.
Miranda K.S. Massie, a Detroit attorney representing the proposed intervenors in the law school case, considers the appeals court decision a “historic”one.
“This is the first time Black and other minority students will have the opportunity to present the truth about racism, bias, and the inequality that continues to saturate higher education,” Massie says.
Elizabeth Barry, University of Michigan associate vice-president and vice general counsel, praised the ruling.
“We welcome the intervenors’ involvement in the case. Both the intervenors and the university are fighting for the same thing: the preservation of a diverse student body. This ruling puts students front and center in the cases and their point of view is very important to this debate,” Barry says.
In a related matter, former U.S. President and University of Michigan alumnus Gerald Ford defended affirmative action in a New York Times opinion article this month. Not known as a publicly outspoken individual since leaving the presidency, Ford invoked the memory of his college days at University of Michigan to argue on behalf of race-conscious affirmative action policies.
Recalling his experiences as a college football player at the University of Michigan in 1935, Ford lamented how racial discrimination severely limited the college opportunities for Black Americans from the 1930s to the 1960s.
Defending affirmative action policies that result in “a campus population more truly reflective of modern America,” Ford writes that eliminating race-conscious affirmative action policies puts all of American society at risk of “turning back the clock.”
“I don’t want future college students to suffer the cultural and social impoverishment that afflicted my generation. If history has taught us anything in this remarkable century, it is the notion of America as a work in progress,” Ford notes.
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