In a 2-1 decision on Friday, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declared a Michigan referendum banning the considerations of race and gender in college admissions unconstitutional, marking a victory for advocates of affirmative action.
The court said the ban — which became part of the state’s constitution after a racially divided vote in November 2006 — “unconstitutionally alters Michigan’s political structure by impermissibly burdening racial minorities.”
In a press conference on the steps of the Michigan Union on Friday, George Washington, an attorney with the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration, and Immigration and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary, joined students and BAMN representatives to rejoice over what Washington called “a tremendous victory” for the civil rights of students.
Washington, who is also a plaintiff in the case, said he was supportive of the decision to overturn the ban, commonly known as Proposal 2, because it could bridge racial inequalities by ensuring leadership that fully represents the entire population.
“I think it’s just the recognition of reality that an increasing share, particularly in states like California, is going to be Latino and black,” Washington said. “And to try to run a country by excluding those students (from universities) … is wrong and inviting a catastrophe.”
In his address at the Union, Washington noted that Proposal 2 passed with nine of every ten black votes and only two-thirds of white votes, adding that the obstacles to racial equality in education begin with discrepancies in secondary school opportunities and negative perceptions of affirmative action.
Kellie Lewis, BAMN organizer, said she is pleased about the decision and the opportunities for minority students that may come with the court’s decision.
“I’m really excited,” Lewis said. “I definitely think it’s going to make opportunities for black and Latino students a lot more equal to be able to attend college.”
She added that in addition to helping to create diversity, the decision will also increase inclusiveness across campus.
“It definitely gives students opportunities to be who they are,” she said. “When you are around a diverse or integrated crowd it definitely feels like you are represented there, like you can have a place there.”
Taqee Vernon, Business junior and spokesperson for the Black Student Union, said he did not attend the event but is pleased by the news. However, he added he is still dismayed by continuing racial and socioeconomic inequalities.
“Being … an African American and a Detroiter, I kind of have a very clear position in which I get to see a socioeconomic, on one part, and then racial, on another part, injustice that still exists and persists in America,” Vernon said. “So I feel like the things that affirmative action allowed to counter that injustice was a very positive step for the United States.”
Among the advantages of affirmative action, Vernon said, is its ability to encourage dialogue about racial injustices and the benefits of diversity.
“It allows people to look at injustices and inequalities, to openly recognize that they do exist, and to at least seek to correct those discrepancies,” he said. “The diversity of Michigan allowed me to see a different perspective … and I can only hope I see that improve with (the decision).”
For the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, instilling diversity within the state’s public universities was one of the major benefits of affirmative action and the most severe casualties of Proposal 2. According to an ACLU press release, the number of African American, Hispanic and Native Americans in the University’s freshman class has dropped 11.4 percent since 2006 — a trend the ACLU hopes will be reversed by the court’s decision Friday.
“(Friday’s) ruling has kept the door open for thousands of academically qualified students of color to continue to pursue the American dream through our state’s colleges and universities,” Kary L. Moss, executive director of the ACLU of Michigan, said in the statement.
In a July 1 statement, University spokeswoman Kelly Cunningham said it is too soon to predict what implications the decision may have on University admissions, but added that the University will continue to monitor the situation in the likely scenario of an appeal.
“The University is reviewing the possible implications of the court’s decision, and recognizes that there may be further legal steps as well,” Cunningham said.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette confirmed Cunningham’s speculation, and said in a statement that he would appeal the decision with the hope of restoring merit-based admissions.
“(Proposal 2) embodies the fundamental premise of what America is all about: equal opportunity under the law,” Schuette said in the statement. “Entrance to our great universities must be based upon merit, and I will continue the fight for equality, fairness and rule of law.”