A Michigan law banning race-conscious admissions policies at the state's universities is unconstitutional, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has ruled.
Judge Guy Cole Jr. wrote the majority opinion for a split en banc court in the Nov. 15 ruling in Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action v. Regents of the University of Michigan.
The decision reversed a March 2008 ruling by Judge David Lawson of the Eastern District of Michigan District that found constitutional a ballot initiative that amended the Michigan constitution to prohibit affirmative action. In November 2006, Michigan voters passed the ballot initiative, known as Proposal 2, by a margin of 58 percent to 42 percent.
The initiative amended the Michigan Constitution "to prohibit all sex- and race-based preferences in public education, public employment, and public contracting." Proposal 2 also barred Michigan public colleges and universities or their boards from revisiting the issue without repeal or modification of Article I, Section 26 of the Michigan Constitution.
Interest groups challenged
The case involved a challenge by a collection of interest groups and individuals who sued then-Governor Jennifer Granholm, and top-ranking state university officials the day after Proposal 2 passed.
The ruling by the Sixth Circuit creates a circuit split with one by the Ninth Circuit this year upholding the constitutionality of California's Proposition 209 ban on affirmative action, Wilson and Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action v. Brown.
George Boyer Washington of Detroit's Scheff, Washington & Driver, who argued for plaintiff Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary (BAMN), called the ruling "a tremendous victory … for tens and hundreds of thousands of black, Latino and other minority students."
"The Michigan law that was just struck down and five other state laws in Arizona, California, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Washington have "devastated minority enrollment," Washington said. "To have laws that drive down minority enrollment by one-third is just tragically wrong and illegal," Washington said.
In a Nov. 15 statement, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette announced plans to file a petition of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court. Schuette said that the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, which was overturned by the ruling, "embodies the fundamental premise of what America is all about: equal opportunity under the law. Entrance to our great universities must be based upon merit. We are prepared to take the fight for equality, fairness and the rule of law to the U.S. Supreme Court."
Judges Eric Clay, Bernice Donald, Boyce Martin Jr., Karen Nelson Moore, Jane Branstetter Stranch, Helene White and Senior Judge Martha Craig Daughtrey joined Cole's majority opinion. Chief Judge Alice Batchelder along with judges Deborah Cook, Julia Smith Gibbons, Richard Allen Griffin, John Rogers and Jeffrey Sutton joined two sections of the majority.