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The Power of Now
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The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments today in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, a challenge to Michigan's Proposal 2. Mark Rosenbaum, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, argued the case before the court.
Proposal 2 is a 2006 ballot measure that led to a state constitutional ban on race-conscious college admissions policies, effectively creating two separate and unequal systems for determining the admissions criteria used at state universities.
"This case is ultimately about whether minority students will be allowed to compete on the same playing field as other students. Right now, there are two separate playing fields with two separate rulebooks," said Rosenbaum. "Minority students and those who support a diverse student body should not have to overturn a constitutional amendment to have their voices heard in the admissions process when everyone else can simply lobby the university."
Under Proposal 2, donors, athletic officials, church groups, alumni, and others can lobby universities to have their constituents' affiliations or experiences – such as legacy or athletic achievement – considered in admissions decisions, but students cannot ask that race be considered.
In 2006, the ACLU, NAACP, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and the law firm of Cravath, Swaine and Moore, LLP, filed a lawsuit on behalf of students, faculty and, prospective applicants to the University of Michigan challenging Proposal 2.
Plaintiff Kevin Gaines, a professor of history and African-American Studies at the University of Michigan, has seen Proposal 2's negative impact on students' educational experience.
"The lack of diversity has had a chilling effect on the quality of discourse in the classroom," said Gaines. "A university should be a place where a variety of viewpoints are expressed, shared and debated. Proposal 2 has hindered, not helped, students from receiving the robust education they deserve."
Molly Nestor, a 2013 graduate of the University of Michigan and now a teacher in Brooklyn, N.Y., is a case plaintiff. As a student, she said the dwindling diversity in her university classroom negatively impacted her education.
"As a student who graduated with a class admitted after Proposal 2 passed, I feel I am less prepared to serve diverse communities," she said. "If universities want to prepare leaders that create a more equitable future, they have to foster equality and diversity in their student body. Proposal 2 keeps that important work from happening."
There has been a notable decline in minority enrollment since Proposal 2 took effect. For example, African-American enrollment plummeted 33 percent at the University of Michigan/Ann Arbor between 2006 and 2012, even as overall enrollment grew by 10 percent.
In 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit struck down Proposal 2 as unconstitutional for placing an unfair burden on those seeking to have race considered as one of many factors in university admissions.
"The appeals court properly recognized that the system created by Proposal 2 is unfair and unconstitutional," said Joshua Civin, an attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. "The Supreme Court has previously struck down laws that place extra burdens on the ability of minorities to participate as equals in the political process, and we believe the court should do so in this case."