DETROIT – Lawyers presented their cases before Judge David Lawson yesterday in Federal District Court, arguing whether there should be a full trial examining arguments for and against Proposal 2, the ballot initiative passed in Nov. 2006 that banned the use of many forms of affirmative action in the state of Michigan.
The case, Cantrell v. Granholm, seeks to overturn the ban, with the plaintiffs claiming it’s unconstitutional. The complaint argues that Michigan colleges should be allowed to consider race and gender in their admissions processes.
There’s no timeline for Lawson, who presided over the hearing, to make a decision on how the case will proceed. Lawson has the power to decide the constitutionality of Proposal 2 or send the case to a full trial.
Before a full courtroom, attorney Margaret Nelson spoke on behalf of Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox and the state of Michigan.
She argued that Proposal 2 rightfully eliminates discrimination on the basis of race in college admissions processes.
Nelson said those who hoped to overturn Proposal 2 by sending Cantrell v. Granholm to trial were seeking preferential treatment in the admissions process rather than protection from discrimination.
“They are looking to use a sword rather than a shield,” Nelson said.
Attorney Charles Cooper also defended the measure by saying the Equal Protection Clause, which is found in the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and seeks to protect individual rights at the state level, ensures the legality of Proposal 2.
He said students would be judged on their ancestry rather than their merits if Proposal 2 were overturned.
Attorney Leonard Niehoff, who spoke on behalf of the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University, said the state’s public universities are only responsible for implementing the law as it is determined by the state and therefore shouldn’t be included as defendants if the case is sent to trial.
Attorney Shanta Driver, national co-chair and spokeswoman of pro-affirmative action group By Any Means Necessary, emphasized the significance of the judge’s decision, calling Cantrell v. Granholm “the most important civil rights case before any court in the nation” before the judge.
She told the court that upholding Proposal 2 could have “devastating consequences” for black and Latino students trying to attend certain colleges.
About 30 high school students attended the hearing, which began around 2:30 p.m. A handful of University of Michigan students – some of whom were BAMN members – went to the hearing.
After the hearing, Shandria Vaughn, a black, Detroit-area high school student, said the case was important to her because it would likely decide whether she could attend a school like the University of Michigan.
If Lawson determines that Proposal 2 is unconstitutional, the decision will likely be met with a series of appeals, sending it to a higher court.