After their failure to put a proposal to ban the use of race-conscious decision-making by state institutions on the 2004 ballot, supporters of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative are continuing their campaign. Hoping for more success in 2006, they are working to gather the 317,757 signatures of registered voters needed to place the proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot before an unspecified January deadline. Anyone who supports affirmative action and values the diversity it facilitates should actively oppose MCRI’s effort.

Angela Cesere

At the core of this campaign are deceptive messages designed to influence the public into banning an effective social policy. The name “Michigan Civil Rights Initiative” evokes an association with the Civil Rights Movement, even though the initiative seeks to roll back some of the progressive reforms the movement championed.

Even the actual wording used in the proposal is misleading. The phrase “shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin” elicits a false righteousness that is neither appropriate nor necessary. Because Michigan’s constitution already guarantees equal protection under the law, the proposal serves only one purpose: banning affirmative action.

The goal of affirmative action is to create a level playing field for all people by supporting traditionally disadvantaged communities. It is important to remember that affirmative action is not a permanent solution but a means for creating a more equal society. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, explaining her vote in favor of the University’s affirmative action policies, wrote, “We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today.” Unfortunately, MCRI threatens to halt the progress being made by current policies, virtually ensuring an unequal world for years to come.

Even if MCRI cannot gather the required signatures before the January deadline, its supporters have the resources to keep trying during any 180-day period prior to July 6, 2006. Because the campaign is well-funded, well-organized and highly publicized, it is likely to continue until it succeeds. Therefore, the best way to protect the policies that promote diversity and encourage long-term social equality is to pre-empt MCRI.

MCRI seeks to undermine the University’s race-conscious admissions policy for promoting diversity, and the passage of the MCRI amendment would effectively nullify the University’s 2003 legal victory at the Supreme Court. The time for passive disapproval has come and gone. It is no longer enough to simply avoid signing MCRI petitions. Everyone, students included, must take more aggressive roles in opposition to the ballot proposal that jeopardizes the future of the University’s affirmative action policies and diversity at large.

 

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