Before the ink could dry on the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion concerning the constitutionality of the University’s race-conscious admission policy, a few irate opposers began a firestorm of retaliatory political maneuvers intending to circumvent the enforcement and undermine the spirit of the high court’s ruling. University of California Regent Ward Connerly, who has lead a nationwide crusade to outlaw affirmative action programs, has targeted his campaign at the source of the recently established national legal precedent: the state of Michigan.
Connerly’s proposal, The Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, would prohibit race-based preferences in public education, as well as in public hiring, firing and promotion practices. In order for the initiative to reach the ballot, Connerly needs the signatures of 10 percent of the voter population that participated in Michigan’s most recent gubernatorial election in 2002.
In its recent monumental decision, the Supreme Court upheld the right of a public educational institution to incorporate an individual’s race into its admission decision. While the judgment forbids using race as a “deciding factor,” analysts have concurred that it still leaves recourse for public institutions to seek other mechanisms to foster diversity and provide enhanced academic opportunities for those minorities who face insurmountable social and economic barriers. It is important to note, however, that while the court’s decision functions as the supreme law of the land, the verdict merely recognizes a public institution’s right to incorporate race into admission decisions, it does not mandate such consideration. Despite giving every state the constitutional entitlement to employ these programs, the court’s ruling does not nullify any state law disallowing them. It is on this premise that the simple – yet to this point successful – anti-affirmative movement has been launched: Utilizing referendums and ballot initiatives, it is a state-to-state campaign to get anti-color conscious bills onto the ballot. So far Connerly has lead successful initiatives in California and Washington state, but Michigan is significant both because of its ongoing commitment to using race-based decisions to cultivate a diverse academic community and because of its symbolic status as the source of the recently established Supreme Court precedent.
Connerly has chosen to mask the less appealing motivations of his campaign under a seemingly benevolent pretense of direct democracy. By utilizing the ballot initiative (his only feasible option), Connerly claims that he is bringing the voice back to the people. While it is true that the initiative epitomizes democracy in its most purest form, it would be na�ve to recognize Connerly’s state-ballot-initiative crusade as a benign attempt to enfranchise the common voter while ignoring the simple fact that this is the most convenient and economical mechanism of serving special interests.
While it is vital for all citizens to promote and utilize democratic tools like ballot initiatives by excercising their inalienable right to vote for representation and policy, it is just as critical to be skeptical of proposals that can potentially marginalize the minority.