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Supreme Court to Hear Challenge to Michigan Ballot Initiative That Unconstitutionally Rigs the Political Process Based on Race

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Monday, March 25, 2013

Today the Supreme Court granted certiorari to review an appellate court’s decision striking down a Michigan law that unconstitutionally rigged the state political system against state residents seeking to enhance racial diversity and access to opportunity at the state’s public universities.  Shortly after this law, commonly known as “Proposal 2,” passed through a ballot initiative sponsored by opponents of diversity in 2006, LDF filed suit on behalf of students, faculty, and applicants to the University of Michigan, along with a coalition of civil rights groups, including the ACLU of Michigan, the Detroit Branch of the NAACP, and the NAACP’s Michigan Conference of Branches. 

In November 2012, the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, sitting en banc with fifteen judges, agreed with LDF and its coalition partners that Proposal 2 violated the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The case, now known as Schuette v. Cantrell, was heard alongside a companion case, Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action.

While the Supreme Court’s decision to revisit Proposal 2 in Cantrell raises the stakes in Michigan, the case does not address the constitutionality of race-conscious admissions policies in higher education, which have previously been upheld by the Supreme Court in cases such as Grutter v. Bollinger.  As a result, this case raises an entirely distinct issue from the challenge to the University of Texas’s diversity admissions policy currently pending before the Supreme Court in Fisher v. University of Texas.  For more on LDF’s advocacy in Fisher, seehere.

“We trust that the U.S. Supreme Court will reaffirm the bedrock constitutional principle that our democratic processes must be open and accessible to all citizens,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. “Proposal 2 unconstitutionally gerrymanders Michigan’s political process and relegates the critical topics of racial diversity and access to educational opportunity to a separate, distant, and far more cumbersome playing field—one that is unplayable for all practicable purposes.” Not surprisingly, as a direct result of Proposal 2, minority student enrollment has decreased at Michigan’s most selective public universities.  For instance, according to the University of Michigan’s statistics, African-American undergraduate enrollment fell from 6.7% in 2006 to 4.5% in 2010.  

As the Sixth Circuit recognized, Proposal 2 forces supporters of racial diversity in higher education to surmount more formidable obstacles to achieve their political objectives than other groups face.  “If an alumni association thought children of alumni should be given extra consideration in admissions, all it would have to do is lobby the state university’s governing board,” said Josh Civin, Counsel to LDF’s Director of Litigation.  “But if other advocates want a state university to consider race as one of many factors in admissions, Proposal 2 forces them to embark on the arduous and expensive task of amending the Michigan Constitution.  And this is the case, even though such a modest diversity policy otherwise would be entirely constitutional under well-established law, including the Supreme Court’s decision in Grutter."