Fighting to Save Race-Conscious Admissions

April 22, 2014

A coalition of civil rights organizations led by the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit in December 2006 to preserve affirmative action in university admissions in the wake of Proposal 2. The ACLU represented 19 African American, Latino, and white applicants, students and faculty who wanted to ensure that they were able to learn and teach within a diverse environment.

We argued that Proposal 2 violates equal protection by making it more difficult for people of color to affect the admissions process than nearly any other group. In other words, nearly any group wanting a characteristic to be considered as a plus factor in university admissions—whether it be legacy status, athletic ability or living in an obscure part of the state—need only lobby the university.

In contrast, in order for underrepresented racial minorities to urge a university to employ affirmative action, they must first amend the Michigan Constitution through a ballot initiative. In 2011 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled in our favor in a 2-1 decision, and in 2012 the entire Sixth Circuit ruled “en banc” in our favor by a vote of 8-7.

Unfortunately, in April 2014 the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Sixth Circuit’s decision, ruling that while affirmative action is still a lawful means to achieve racial diversity on campus in most states, voters may choose to abolish affirmative action through a ballot initiative.

(Cantrell v. Schuette; attorneys include Mark Rosenbaum, Dennis Parker, Mark Fancher and Michael J. Steinberg of the ACLU; Melvin Butch Hollowell of the Detroit NAACP; Joshua Civin of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund; Karen DeMasi of Cravath Swaine & Moore; and Professors Erwin Chemerinsky and Lawrence Tribe.)

To view the full 2014-2015 Legal Docket, click here.

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