Before a meeting of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission at the University Law School yesterday, about 20 students and BAMN members picketed the meeting in an attempt to convince the commission to hold more hearings on the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, a proposal on November’s state ballot to ban some affirmative action programs in the state.
“MCRI=Lies and deception,” one sign read.
The picketing worked.
In its third hearing to investigate charges that representatives from MCRI tricked people into signing its petition, the commission voted to file a stay that will delay a hearing until further information is gathered about the alleged fraud.
While MCRC does not have the power to overturn the Michigan Appeals Court decision that mandated MCRI be placed on the November ballot, it could make a recommendation to the Michigan Supreme Court suggesting that it nullify the appeals court ruling.
The MCRC, created in 1963, investigates reported instances of discrimination in Michigan.
MCRI, which collected more than 500,000 signatures supporting the controversial ballot proposal, has denied all fraud charges.
At the hearing, commission chair Mark Bernstein assured people that the commission is being deliberate and thorough.
“I want to iterate just how concerned we are about the very, very serious allegations being made,” he said.
The commission also unanimously voted to hold another meeting, this one in Lansing, to hear from MCRI representatives as well as people who signed the petition.
Commission member Kelvin Scott then asked the board to vote on the motion to stay, leading to a heated debate.
Commission member Albert Calille, a 1976 graduate of the University Law School, questioned the relevance of further hearings.
“I know (information gathered by the commission regarding the alleged fraud) is relevant as a practical matter, but I am not sure it is relevant as a legal matter,” he said. “As a litigator, I question if this information is admissible evidence.”
The other commission members disagreed.
Scott said it is a prime opportunity for the commission to carry out its responsibility to investigate civil rights abuses.
“Let the Supreme Court decide how to use the information,” he said.
Luke Massie, a member of BAMN, said the commission is the first governmental body to give adequate attention to the fraud allegations.
“This is a breakthrough . a vindication for us,” he said. “It is very unusual for the commission to file for a stay, so they are basically saying, ‘What you’ve found is what we’ve found.'”
Monica Smith, a BAMN member and presidential candidate for the Defend Affirmative Action Party in today’s and tomorrow’s Michigan Student Assembly election, said, “(The commission’s decision) will blow the lid off MCRI; they can’t argue the fact that they lied to people.”
MCRI has not attended any of the commission’s hearings.