LANSING — A Michigan Court of Appeals ruling has
reinstated a petition drive to put an anti-affirmative action
measure on the fall ballot.

In a seven-page opinion dated Friday, the unanimous three-judge
appeals panel overturned a March ruling in Ingham County Circuit
Court that the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative was improperly
worded and likely to confuse voters.

The decision removes a major obstacle for the campaign led by
Ward Connerly, a California businessman and affirmative action
opponent, The Detroit News, the Detroit Free Press and The Ann
Arbor News reported.

But MCRI spokesman Chetly Zarko said that, although he was
elated by the court’s decision, it may have come too late to
salvage the petition drive for the 2004 ballot.

“We may have to switch gears for 2006,” Zarko said.
“But this gives us a major boost of momentum to
continue.”

Laura Davis, co-chair of the Young Americans for Freedom, said
she believes the appeals court made the right decision regarding
the MCRI petition drive.

“Opponents (to MCRI) have been making periphery attacks
since the collection of signatures began but what many people
don’t realize is that two-thirds of Michigan voters support
the initiative,” said Davis, an LSA junior.

One of the leaders of the campaign for the statewide vote said
in May that the group had given up the effort to make the November
ballot and was aiming for 2006 instead. But Jennifer Gratz, the
group’s executive director, told The Detroit News for
Sunday’s story that a decision on when the initiative will go
forward will be made this week.

Affirmative action supporters say they likely will appeal the
decision to the Michigan Supreme Court.

Shanta Driver, national co-chair of BAMN, said she is confident
the state Supreme Court will rule that the petition language in the
MCRI is misleading.

“Our case so fits in within the parameter of their own
thinking, for them to rule otherwise would really mean changing the
precedence of their own cases,” Driver said.

Kate Stenvig, a BAMN member and alumna of the University, echoed
Driver’s confidence.

“We’re planning on taking it up to the state Supreme
Court but regardless of that, we’ve succeeded, “ she
said. “We’ve destroyed their campaign and so we have
done what a lot of people thought was impossible. This isn’t
over.”

Stenvig said BAMN has other plans to go on the offensive, which
include trying to increase minority enrollment — which
dropped this year — and at the University of California at
Berkeley, BAMN will be try to remove Ward Connerly from the Board
of Regents.

The Court of Appeals heard arguments earlier this month on
whether supporters of the petition drive must change how the
proposal is written. The panel reviewed recent lower court rulings,
including the Ingham County ruling that the form of the petitions
should not have been approved by the Board of State Canvassers.

Circuit Court Judge Paula Manderfield had said in that ruling
that the petitions don’t say the proposal would alter
existing provisions in the state constitution related to equal
protection under the law and anti-discrimination.

MCRI needs to collect a minimum of 317,757 petition signatures
by early July to gain a spot on the fall statewide ballot. The
ballot proposal would ban public schools and agencies from granting
preferential treatment based on race, sex, color, ethnicity or
national origin.

The petition effort comes after the U.S. Supreme Court’s
5-4 decided last June that the University of Michigan Law School
could consider race to create a diverse population.

The court struck down the university’s undergraduate
policy for ensuring a mix of students as too formulaic, and
university officials revised the policy last fall to include a more
comprehensive review of each application.

—Compiled from Daily staff and wire reports

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