The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday is scheduled to hear arguments over the Michigan Constitutional amendment that prohibits race and gender-based affirmative action in public employment, public education and public contracting.
The case, Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, dates back to 2006 and the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI), which was on the statewide ballot as Proposal 2. At the time, it was opposed by the Democrat and Republican parties, most corporations and unions, most political candidates, and the vast majority of the news media. Nonetheless, it passed with a solid majority, 58 percent to 42 percent.
After the results of the 2006 election were in, the MCRI was challenged in court by opponents led by an organization called, "By Any Means Necessary" (BAMN).
"Keep in mind that the primary group fighting MCRI in this case isn't the NAACP or the ACLU, it's a radical organization called BAMN," said Leon Drolet, director of the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance, who played a key role in organizing the successful MCRI ballot effort. "This is the same BAMN that sent people to Lansing who ran rampant in and around the Capitol Building, doing things like stealing money from a blind man's [food] stand and causing havoc."
According to a BAMN website, the group is organizing a student march on the U.S. Supreme Court Building to take place Tuesday.
The MCRI withstood the court challenge until 2012 when the U.S 6th Circuit Court ruled the MCRI was unconstitutional. The court ruled that Michigan's Constitutional amendment violates the U.S. Constitution because the racial preferences were designed to help minorities and overturning them would harm their equal protection.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette appealed that decision and on March 25, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would take up the case.
At the U.S. Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, John Bursch, Michigan’s Solicitor General under Attorny General Schuette, will be making the argument for the MCRI before the high court.
"This has been a long battle," said Jennifer Gratz, CEO of the XIV Foundation, who challenged undergraduate racial discrimination in the admissions policy at the University of Michigan. "It has definitely been a marathon, not a sprint. In the fullness of time, discrimination cannot stand up against the principles of our Constitution and the people's belief in equality."
In 2003, Gratz won in the U.S. Supreme Court decision, Gratz v. Bollinger. However, that same year the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a University of Michigan Law School affirmative action policy in Grutter v. Bollinger. Following the Grutter ruling, Gratz spearheaded the MCRI.
"I take this current case just as personally as the case that bears my name," Gratz said. "I think it's important to note that the arguments the other side is now using in this case are at odds with the arguments U of M made in the Grutter case. It kind of creates the impression that they are changing their arguments by whim."
In the Grutter case, U-M won in a 5-4 decision with the argument that it had a compelling interest in promoting class diversity. In the current case, BAMN is arguing that the U.S. Supreme Court should uphold affirmative action policies aimed at addressing underrepresented minorities.
George B. Washington is an attorney and spokesman for the movement against the MCRI.
"I think our basic argument is that Proposal 2 (MCRI) prohibits people who want to increase the opportunities for — particularly blacks and Hispanics — at the University of Michigan the same methods available to increase representation used by other groups, such as veterans, low-income students, rural students and the children of alumni. Why should blacks and Hispanics be singled out for unequal treatment?" he said.
"We believe this is a straight up violation of equality and the 14th Amendment to the Constitution," Washington continued. "This is a very important issue. We anticipate that there will be several thousand people at the Supreme Court on Oct. 15, urging the court to uphold equality."
Proponents of Michigan's Constitutional amendment argue that the government is free to offer help, particularly to students who are low-income, but this must be done regardless of the student's race. They say public dollars should not be used for racial discrimination.