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U.S. Judge Lets Michigan Universities Use Affirmative Action, For Now

Michigan universities will continue race- and gender-based admissions, hiring and financial aid until July 1, 2007, instead of on Saturday, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

The so-called Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, or Proposal 2, was approved by 58 percent of Michigan voters on Nov. 7 and was scheduled to become part of the state’s constitution Saturday.

But a lawsuit filed by the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University sought additional time to study Proposal 2 and implement it. A motion signed Tuesday by U.S. District Judge David Lawson delaying implementation means the full impact of Proposition 2 won’t be felt for an additional six months.

Lawson’s motion essentially means that student financial aid linked to affirmative action will continue to be doled out at the three schools until July 1. Also, affirmative action will continue to be used as a basis for admitting incoming underclassmen and graduate students, up to July 1.

The NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union also entered the fray Tuesday, filing a separate lawsuit, arguing that the U.S. Supreme Court’s interpretation of the U.S. Constitution permits some university affirmative action, despite the state ban.

The half-year delay approved by Judge Lawson was crafted by Gov. Jennifer Granholm, state Attorney General Mike Cox and attorneys for the three universities.  

“Clearly, I’m sympathetic with the universities seeking a delay,” Granholm told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “The voters have spoken. We understand that. But we’re also extremely committed, as an administration, to diversity, and to fostering diversity.”

The motion approved by Judge Lawson, a member of the U.S. District Court in Detroit,  “ensures that the civil rights community is really at the table as this process to figure out exactly what the impact and reach of Proposition 2 will be plays out,” says Kary Moss, executive director of the Michigan ACLU.

“We can ensure that a system is arrived at that is both constitutional and promotes a diverse educational environment,” Moss says.

Not surprisingly, affirmative action foes were angered by news that Michigan’s top three universities can continue to peg admissions and financial aid decisions to affirmative action for another half year. 

“The universities really have no excuse for not implementing Proposal 2 on Dec. 23,” Alan Foutz, a lawyer with the Sacramento, Calif.-based Pacific Legal Foundation, told The Associated Press. “They should have recognized . . . there could be some changes coming down the pike.”

The new suit, filed Tuesday by the NAACP and the ACLU on behalf of 19 students, faculty members and high school students seeking admission to the University of Michigan, also was assigned to Lawson.

“Affirmative Action is still the law of the land. Recent events in Michigan related to the passage of Proposal 2 have only increased our energy to keep the doors of equal opportunity open and accessible for all of America’s sons and daughters. We have come too far to allow the doors of opportunity to be shut in the face of the American promise of liberty and justice,” said Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the NAACP, Detroit chapter.

Since the early 1990s, California businessman Ward Connerly has characterized affirmative action as “state-sponsored discrimination.”

An African American who’d already successfully backed anti-affirmative action propositions in California and Washington State, Connerly went after Michigan in earnest in 2003. Working in tandem with Jennifer Gratz, the co-leader of his Michigan campaign, Connerly added the state to his anti-affirmative action victory column last month. 

The onetime University of California regent recently told the San Francisco Chronicle that he’s taking his fight to Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, Oregon, South Dakota, Wyoming and Utah over the next 60 days.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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