Full Appeals Court Hears Arguments Challenging Michigan’s Ban on Race-Conscious Admissions

March 07, 2012

CINCINNATI, OH – Attorneys representing students, faculty, and prospective applicants to the University of Michigan asked a 15-judge federal appeals court panel today to strike down Michigan’s Proposal 2 as unconstitutional because it creates an unequal political process for individuals who seek to urge universities to consider race as one of many factors in admissions.

"Proposal 2 removes race from the vocabulary of our democracy in favor of preferences for alumni and every other conceivable group, diminishing forever the mosaic that is unique to our nation,” said Mark Rosenbaum, the ACLU attorney who argued the case. “It forcibly silences our great national debate over the relevance of racial identity."

The lawsuit, filed in 2006 by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), NAACP, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) and the law firm of Cravath, Swaine and Moore, LLP, challenges the constitutional amendment, which eliminates the consideration of race in university admissions despite the fact that such admissions policies have been upheld by U.S. Supreme Court.

In Grutter v. University of Michigan, the Court held that the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution does not prohibit the narrowly tailored use of race in admissions decisions to further the educational benefits that come from a diverse student body. Moreover, the Court has explained that a state law violates the Equal Protection Clause when it makes it more difficult for people of color than for other members of the community to achieve legislation that is in their interest.

“This is not about leveling the playing field; it’s about getting on the playing field,” said Dennis Parker, director of the National ACLU Racial Justice Program. “This is about allowing all individuals to have a voice in the admissions process.”

For example, if an alumni association thought that legacy status should be considered in admissions, all it would have to do is lobby the admissions committee. However, those interested in the consideration of race must first undertake the arduous and expensive task of amending the Michigan Constitution before they can lobby the university.

In July 2011, a 3-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit struck down Proposal 2 agreeing that it violated the Equal Protection Clause. Later that month, the appeals court granted the Michigan attorney general’s request to convene the full court to reconsider the decision. A separate challenge, filed by a group called BAMN, has been consolidated with this case.

“Proposal 2 treats those who value equal opportunity unfairly, diminishing the quality of our system of higher education,” said Rev. Wendell Anthony, Detroit Branch NAACP president. “The numbers don’t lie – African American student enrollment at our state’s universities has been on a steady decline since 2006. It’s important that we ebb the tide to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to be heard.”

Since Proposal 2 went into effect, the University of Michigan reports that the number of African-Americans enrolled as freshmen declined nearly 15 percent from 2006 to 2010. In addition, from 2006 to 2011, African-American enrollment at the University’s law school dropped by 28 percent.

Key Documents

Read the appeals court decision

Read the civil rights organization's appeals court brief

Read the district court judge's opinion

Read the original complaint

Racial Justice

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