Federal Court Strikes Down Michigan’s Ban on Equal Opportunity

Update 4/4/2012: The Sixth Circuit is currently rehearing en banc the constitutionality of Michigan’s Proposal 2, which prohibits Michigan’s public colleges and universities from granting “preferential treatment to …  any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin.””

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals recently struck down (2-1)  Michigan’s ban on equal opportunity programs in public higher education, employment, and contracting.

The court ruled that the ban changed the political process in Michigan to such a degree that it puts “special burdens on minority interests,” which violates the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause.

“The Constitution requires that our democratic processes must be open and accessible to all citizens, regardless of their race,” said John Payton, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF). “Today’s decision ensures fairness for advocates of diversity and inclusion in higher education.”

In 2006, Michigan passed a ballot initiative, Proposal 2, amending its state constitution to ban equal opportunity programs. Following its passage, a coalition of civil rights organizations that includes the ACLU of Michigan, ACLU Foundation of Southern California, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed a federal lawsuit challenging its constitutionality.

“Through this lawsuit, we set out to level the playing field so that racial identity is not treated as irrelevant or meaningless in this state,” said Kary L. Moss, executive director of the ACLU of Michigan. “Today we are one step closer to realizing that goal”

The leading proponent of these anti-equal opportunity ballot initiatives is Ward Connerly, a California businessman and former University of California regent, who has shopped similar initiatives in states around the country for over a decade. Connerly-sponsored initiatives have passed in four other states – California (1996), Washington (1998), Nebraska (2008), and Arizona (2010).  Colorado is the only state where, in 2008, voters rejected a Connerly anti-equal opportunity measure.

The state of Michigan has indicated that it will appeal the decision to the full court.