A state agency formally invalidated a petition to end
race-conscious policies in Michigan yesterday. The decision follows
an order made by a state circuit court last month, stating that the
wording of the petition misleads signers and should be
invalidated.

Before reviewing nine other petitions, the State Board of
Canvassers — a four-member, bipartisan government body that
approves petitions for ballot initiatives — rescinded its
approval of the petition for the Michigan Civil Rights
Initiative.

The board’s decision could hurt MCRI’s campaign.
After Judge Paula Manderfield ruled that the board should not have
validated the petition last December, MCRI decided it would await
an appeal to the decision and continue to collect signatures.

But in light of this decision, its plans are less certain. MCRI
campaign manager Tim O’Brien said yesterday, “The
question is, ‘What do we do now?’”

Although Mansfield wrote that the petition could drastically
change or nullify the civil rights article of the state
constitution, MCRI did not make clear its intent to change the
exisiting amendment.

MCRI seeks to amend the constitution to ban “race and
gender preferences.” If the group obtains 317,757 signatures
by July 6, registered voters will decide on the November ballot
whether to eliminate race-conscious policies in public education,
employment and contracting.

Yesterday’s unanimous decision adheres to the court order,
even though at least two board members still stand by their initial
approval of the form in December. Last year, when the board
validated the petition, three members — two Republicans and
one Democrat — voted in favor of the form, while one Democrat
abstained.

Attorney General Mike Cox, the board’s lawyer, has
appealed the court ruling that ordered the board to invalidate the
petition. If he is successful, the petition will be valid.

A ruling on Cox’s appeal could come in a few days, MCRI
and BAMN officials said.

In light of yesterday’s Board decision, O’Brien said
MCRI will consider revising its petition. But the group will wait
until the appeals court rules.

George Washington, the attorney representing BAMN, which
originally sued the board, said, “Basically, I think it hurts
the MCRI. It’s the second decision in a row disapproving
their petition. … I think they’re going to have to
redo it and tell people the truth.”

With less than three months until the petition signatures are
due, MCRI may have some difficulty accomplishing its goal if it
must redo the form. A final decision on the petition could be weeks
away, since BAMN promises to take the case to the State Supreme
Court if it loses in the state Court of Appeals. The high court,
however, may decide not hear the case and let the appellate court
ruling stand.

BAMN has also tried to stop Cox’s appeal because Cox did
not consult with the board before choosing to appeal, but that
motion has since fallen through.

O’Brien said the group is financially able to create and
redistribute new petitions, but getting the signatures will be
strategically more difficult.

“Logistically is more the question, particularly because
of still making it onto the ballot this fall,” he said.

MCRI will wait until the appellate court rules. “Our
intent is to look at the Court of Appeals decision very
closely,” MCRI Director of Outreach Chetly Zarko said. Zarko
added that Manderfield’s ruling was a “stretch”
because it greatly expanded the responsibilities of the board
— virtually requiring board members to be constitutional
lawyers. An appeals court ruling will provide “clearer
guidance” as to what MCRI should do.

“We remain confident that Judge Manderfield was legally
inaccurate in ordering the Board of Canvassers to do what they
did,” O’Brien said.

Apart from MCRI’s petitions, the board approved nine other
petitions under review yesterday, board Secretary Christopher
Thomas said.

Under consideration were ballot initiatives on a number of
issues, including legalizing marijuana, banning gay marriage and
reinstating the death penalty.

The board also reviewed a petition crafted by Law School alum
David Boyle. His initiative seeks to amend the state constitution
to ban legacy preferences.

“I think it’s a more authentic civil rights
initiative because it focuses on taking preference from bigwigs and
fat cats,” Boyle said, who opposes the MCRI ballot
initiative. He added that MCRI’s campaign works against
minorities and women.

The delay in the decision to approve his petition has been
delayed — he submitted it in January — may make it
harder for Boyle to reach the threshold of 300,000 signatures.

Boyle said he wants the petition to be more than symbolic and
would be happy to get any number of signatures.

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