By Terence J. Pell
Detroit News, January 7, 2007
On Nov. 7, Michigan overwhelmingly voted to amend the Michigan Constitution to forbid its public institutions from considering “race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin” in state programs, including admissions to the three major state universities.
Though the amendment clearly states that Michigan colleges shall no longer “grant preferential treatment to” any individual on the basis of race, state officials implausibly claim the amendment is too ambiguous to implement. Late last month, the governor, the attorney general and three Michigan universities got a federal judge to suspend the application of the new amendment to this year’s admissions cycle.
Led by University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman, state officials professed to be concerned about the unfairness of changing admissions procedures during the early weeks of the admissions cycle.
Of course, this ignored the fact that the university has been using two admissions standards for most of the last 20 years — one for minority applicants and another for everyone else. And it was this unfairness that the voters just explicitly decided to end, not the administrative inconvenience of suddenly having to judge everyone by the same standard.
Opponents change argument.
More preposterous is Coleman’s recent view that the amendment might not have any effect on the U-M’s admissions and financial aid policies because, she claims, merely considering race doesn’t amount to a racial preference.
This is nothing but a pretense. During the vigorous debates about Prop. 2, Coleman repeatedly stated the amendment would end her institution’s race-conscious admissions policies.
Since the election, Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Coleman’s position has shifted from ironclad certainty that the amendment would abolish the university’s racial preference programs to an assurance that it doesn’t even cover those programs.
Granholm and Coleman’s rapidly changing positions reflect a strategic effort to subvert Section 26 of the Constitution by systematically sowing confusion and doubt about what it means and whether it is constitutional.One would have thought the stonewalling would end after the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals delivered a sweeping decision on Dec. 29 rejecting the preposterous idea that Section 26 — which is designed to end race discrimination in all its forms — somehow violates federal laws against race discrimination.
Not only that, the Sixth Circuit handily disposed another one of Coleman’s favorite arguments, namely that universities have a First Amendment right to discriminate on the basis of race. As the court noted, it’s the citizens of Michigan who possess First Amendment rights against the state, not the other way around.The Sixth Circuit vacated the lower court order, meaning state officials were obligated to promptly implement Section 26.
Now, more than a week after the Sixth Circuit ruling, and three weeks after Section 26 was supposed to go in effect, university officials have decided to suspend all admissions while they huddle with their legal advisers to plot their next move.Delay a hardship on students.
Every day that goes by imposes incalculable hardships on this year’s applicants, who do not even know when their applications will be considered, let alone by what standard. As so often happens, the costs of Granholm and Coleman’s lawless actions are being visited on those individuals least able to afford them.
That’s why it is important that the state courts quickly make clear to university officials that they will not tolerate continued defiance, not just to the Constitution, but to the rule of law itself.