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Michigan Supreme Court Won’t Hear

Michigan Supreme Court Won’t Hear
Affirmative Action Ballot Case

This November, Michigan voters will consider a proposal to ban some affirmative action programs after the state Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal that sought to keep this issue off of the ballot.

“We are not persuaded that the questions presented should be reviewed by this court,” the justices wrote in their official decision.

The decision is a victory for the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, (MCRI) which opposes affirmative action. The group has been leading the ballot drive to ask voters in November: “should government and university admissions programs be banned from giving preferential treatment to groups or individuals based on their race, gender, color, ethnicity or national origin.”

A pro-affirmative action group called By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) had urged the Supreme Court to review the issue because it disagrees with allowing the phrase “preferential treatment” to appear on the ballot. It also claims some signatures used to get the issue on the ballot were gained through misrepresentation, a charge MCRI denies.

BAMN attorney Shanta Driver criticized the court’s decision not to hear the group’s appeal.

“This decision just says that the Supreme Court will not protect the voting rights of the people of Michigan,” she says. “The Supreme Court decision shows complete disdain and contempt for the voting rights of Michigan’s Black, Latino and progressive White people.”

However, Jennifer Gratz, MCRI’s executive director, and one of the plaintiffs in the Supreme Court’s 2003 Gratz v. Bollinger case which successfully shot down a point-system used by the University of Michigan’s undergraduate admissions office, says she hopes the court’s decision will allow a discussion on the merits of the ballot proposal.

“We expected that this would happen because we knew our opposition’s arguments did not hold water,” she says. “We’re happy the people of Michigan will have the chance to vote on this in November.”
The ballot initiative began after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that the University of Michigan Law School could consider race to create a diverse student population. Ward Connerly, who led a successful ballot initiative to ban affirmative action in California, is also behind the Michigan effort. 

While public support for the ballot initiative was initially strong, recent polls indicate it is eroding. A statewide poll in March found that 47 percent of 600 likely voters opposed the MCRI initiative, 44 percent favored it and 9 percent were undecided. Because the poll’s margin of sampling error was plus or minus 4 percentage points, the 3-point difference could mean that public opinion is about even.

Even so, the numbers represent a big setback for the proposal, which drew 64 percent support in a similar survey nearly two years ago, according to Ed Sarpolus of EPIC/MRA, the company that performed both surveys. Last December, 53 percent were in favor and 32 percent were opposed.

Pro-affirmative action campaigners say that many people mistakenly supported the initiative because they were misled by MCRI’s name.

— Associated Press and Staff Reports

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