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Effort to Ban Race, Gender Considerations Advances in Michigan

Effort to Ban Race, Gender Considerations Advances in Michigan

By Staff and News Wire Reports

A group seeking to ban race and gender-based preferences in university admissions and government hiring says it submitted more than 508,000 signatures to state elections officials, a major step forward for the group’s campaign.

At least 317,757 valid signatures of Michigan voters are needed to put the proposed constitutional amendment on the November 2006 ballot. Members of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative said they expect no problem in getting enough signatures certified when state elections officials review the petitions over the next few months.

“I think it’s a challenge-proof initiative,” said Ward Connerly, a University of California regent and national leader in the movement to ban race and gender preferences. “But anyone who wants to challenge it — make my day.”

The petition drive collected more signatures than any other in state history for an initiative to change the state constitution, Secretary of State spokeswoman Kelly Chesney said.

The amendment would stop public agencies and universities from granting preferential treatment based on race, color, ethnicity, national origin or sex.

Group leaders said they’re not seeking a ban on all affirmative action programs. But opponents said the campaign had passed out fliers in some communities that read, “Help end ‘affirmative action.'”

“It is a massive campaign of deceit,” says David Waymire, spokesman for the opposition group, Citizens for a United Michigan. “People are being misled.”

The campaign began after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that the University of Michigan’s law school could consider race when admitting students.

At the same time, the court struck down the university’s undergraduate policy that automatically gave minorities a 20-point bonus in a point-based screening system for applicants. University officials later revised the policy.

Jennifer Gratz, one of the three White applicants who brought the cases against the university after failing to gain admission, is executive director of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative. She and the others contended in their suit that Black, Hispanic and American Indian candidates with the same qualifications were given preferential treatment.

Gratz said the amendment “is based on the principle that all people should be treated equally.”

Connerly, who is Black, said preferential treatment based on race and gender is not warranted.

“Don’t patronize. Don’t demean,” he said. “Don’t assume minorities need to be treated differently.”

Opponents to the measure, however, say discrimination still exists and that programs to offset it are still needed.

Paul Hillegonds, executive director of the nonprofit group Detroit Renaissance, said the “amendment is a drastic step backward that will kill valuable programs that have helped bring fairness and diversity to Michigan’s public institutions.”

University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman said the proposal goes beyond admissions and would limit recruiting, mentoring and financial aid programs.

“I believe that this proposal, despite its name, does not further the cause of civil rights in Michigan,” Coleman said. “It is about closing the door to higher education for many of our citizens.”

The Michigan Civil Rights Initiative had hoped to get its proposal on the November 2004 ballot, but legal challenges over how the petition was worded slowed the campaign.

An Ingham County judge last year ruled the campaign’s petition forms did not clearly state that the initiative would change the Michigan Constitution’s anti-discrimination and equal protection provisions. An appeals court disagreed and overturned that decision.

The Michigan Supreme Court, in a 4-3 order issued earlier this month, said it will not review the Court of Appeals decision — a legal victory for those supporting the campaign.

Associated Press

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