If a federal court doesn’t nix it in the eleventh hour, Michigan voters on Nov. 7 will vote on a ballot initiative “to amend the state constitution to ban affirmative action programs that give preferential treatment to groups or individuals based on their race, gender, color, ethnicity, or national origin for public employment, education or contracting purposes.”
The initiative, which comes three years after the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that ruled race—but not racial quotas—may be used in determining who gets admitted to the University of Michigan, has stirred up a hornet’s nest of protest and debate.
But the initiative that started off with a bang—an early Detroit News poll found that supporters of the Michigan ballot initiative had a 40 percent lead over opponents—may be showing some signs of a fizzle. Recently, the newspaper released a new poll showing that voters are now evenly split.
For sure, the initiative has been taking some serious hits.
In late June, for example, a federal lawsuit was filed in Detroit in an effort to get the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI) off the November ballot.
Operation King’s Dream, joined by fellow plaintiffs—Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, two union locals representing city workers, and seven voters—filed the lawsuit on behalf of 125,000 African-American Michigan voters, who claim they were deceived into signing a petition to place an anti-affirmative action constitutional amendment on the ballot.
Luke Massie from Operation King’s Dream says the black signers were led to believe that the petitions were for affirmative action, whereas in fact they were petitions to ban affirmative action.
“That’s voter fraud,” Massie said.
But thus far, the protestations of fraud have not worked to get the special ballot removed.
The initiative was ordered to be placed on the ballot by the Michigan Court of Appeals in December, after the Board of State Canvassers resisted court orders to certify the proposal. Two members of the board, facing contempt charges, have resigned.
The state Supreme Court failed to accept the case for hearing.
Meanwhile, the Michigan Civil Rights Commission conducted a six-month investigation that featured hearings across the state. The final report, which concluded that the initiative rested on a foundation of fraud, is the basis for the current federal suit.
A federal judge must make a decision before September 1—when ballots will be printed for the November election.
Both current Governor Jennifer M. Granholm and Republican challenger businessman Dick DeVos have disavowed the measure.
One United Michigan, a coalition made up of diverse organizations and individuals, has been leading the charge against the initiative. The coalition includes prominent Arab American organizations like the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and the Arab American Political Action Committee. The Michigan Catholic Conference, the Michigan Jewish Conference, and the United Auto Workers are also in the fray.
Susan Kaufmann, a University of Michigan researcher, just released a report on the possible negative effects of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative.
Kaufmann, associate director of the University of Michigan’s Center for the Education of Women, predicted that the effects of the Michigan initiative would match the effects of 1996’s Proposition 209 in California—a measure she described as “virtually identical.”
Kaufmann concluded among other things that since Proposition 209 took effect, California has seen fewer minority and women-owned businesses receive state contracts. Furthermore, she opined, there have been drops in enrollment of minorities at state universities, and fewer minority and women faculty hired by those schools.
“This coming fall, UCLA will enroll fewer African-American students than at any time since 1973,” Kaufmann added.
Proponents of MCRI disagree.
The MCRI Web site explains that “MCRI makes it unconstitutional to pick winners and losers based solely on race and sex. It will make it so that everyone has an opportunity to compete under the same standards for acceptance to college, positions in public employment, and winning government contracts.”
Contrary to the Kaufmann stance, the MCRI proponents argue that once preferences were eliminated in California, more socioeconomic disadvantaged students were accepted—at UC Berkley, for instance, 32.4 percent are now eligible for Pell Grants and at UCLA 35.1 percent are now eligible—compared to 8-9 percent on average in the elite public universities nationwide.
Furthermore, the initiative proponents argue that poverty transcends race.
“MCRI would not prevent, and indeed, would probably result in significantly greater use of socio-economic solutions that would benefit every ‘disadvantaged’ individual regardless of race, they point out.