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Proposal 2, Michigan’s Anti-Affirmative Action
Measure in Statistical Dead Heat; Connerly Gaining
Three years after the Supreme Court approved key
elements of the University of Michigan’s law school and undergraduate program, Michigan voters face a ballot initiative that would undo affirmative action in the state.
Despite the Supreme Court’s affirmation of the constitutionality of using race as one factor in admission decisions in the 2003 case Grutter v. Bollinger, California’s Ward Connerly has continued his attack on affirmative action with the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI). MCRI failed to qualify for the 2004 ballot, but will appear on the 2006 ballot in Michigan.
The Michigan Court of Appeals ordered the state Board of Canvassers to place MCRI – Proposal 2 – on the 2006 ballot after the Board deadlocked whether to place MCRI on the 2006 ballot.
Connerly, one of affirmative action’s most active opponents, successfully orchestrated anti-affirmative action ballot initiatives in California in 1996 and in Washington in 1998.
Connerly’s Proposal 2 is the only anti-affirmative action state initiative to qualify for a spot on the ballot for the 2006
If passed, Connerly’s proposal would amend the Michigan state constitution to prohibit race and gender-based affirmative action programs in public employment, education, and contracting. In the Detroit Free Press,
Trisha Stein, spokeswoman for One United Michigan, a diverse coalition committed to defeating Proposal 2, described the proposal’s elimination of Michigan’s affirmative action programs as “absolute.”
Dead Heat Campaign
Although initially enjoyed strong support in Michigan polls, Proposal 2 polls earlier this year revealed a reversal of that trend. But in the most recent poll released in September,
43 percent of voters opposed Proposal 2, 42 percent of voters supported it, and 16 percent remained undecided. The polling numbers indicate that Proposal 2’s support seem to be increasing as the Connerly campaign launches its paid media.
A March 2006 poll had indicated that 55 percent of Michigan voters supported MCRI as compared to 36 percent who opposed the initiative.
Legal Troubles and Fraud Allegations
Legal complications have plagued the initiative since Connerly first tried to qualify it for the ballot in 2004.
The question, initially raised before the state Board of Canvassers, of whether fraud was involved in collecting signatures for the petitions needed to qualify MCRI for the 2006 ballot, was essentially resolved by the state Supreme Court’s decision to order the initiative to appear on the ballot.
But this issue was reopened by the Michigan Commission on Civil Rights which, in response to allegations of fraud, conducted public hearings in Detroit, Flint, Grand Rapids, and Lansing to determine if proponents of MCRI misrepresented the initiative as a pro-affirmative action measure while collecting signatures from voters.
In its June 2006 report, the Commission concluded that employees of the MCRI committed “shameful acts of deception and misrepresentation” during their efforts to collect enough signatures to place MCRI on the 2006 ballot. The report accuses MCRI of conducting a “highly coordinated, systematic strategy” of deception, misleading thousands of voters about the language, intent, and impact of MCRI.
The report contains affidavits from hundreds of signers who state they would not have signed the petition had petition gatherers accurately represented MCRI.
According to Wade Henderson, president & CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, “The commission’s report confirms the fact that this proposal should never have been placed on the ballot.”
The Commission filed the report with the Michigan Supreme Court, urging the court to reconsider its March decision approving placement of MCRI on the ballot. But on July 13, the Michigan Supreme Court reaffirmed its March refusal to hear an appeal to the Court of Appeals’ decision.
Public Education Campaign Builds
Opposition to MCRI
Opposition to MCRI has been led by One United Michigan (OUM), which is fighting the initiative by educating voters about the likely consequences of its passage.
Pursuing its mission to defeat “all efforts that would adversely affect or reverse equal opportunity programs designed to overcome discrimination,” the organization has created a bipartisan coalition of more than 100 Michigan organizations including Republicans, Democrats, business, labor, social and religious organizations.
The campaign has faced an uphill battle in a state where a Detroit Free Press survey in February 2003 showed 63 percent of voters opposed the University of Michigan’s affirmative action policies.
Many of OUM’s outreach efforts focus on the extensive effects of Proposition 209, Connerly’s successful anti-affirmative action initiative in California.
Prop. 209 effectively banned affirmative action programs in California. Since 1996, when voters approved Prop. 209, black enrollment at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), has dropped 57 percent, according to a July 24, 2006 story by National Public Radio. In the fall of 2006, blacks will comprise only 2 percent of the incoming class at UCLA, the lowest percentage in 30 years at UCLA.
Yanina Montero, the vice chancellor for student affairs at UCLA, termed the decrease in minority enrollments since the passage of Prop. 209 as a “crisis.” OUM predicts that Michigan’s institutions of higher education will experience similar negative consequences if MCRI passes.
OUM also suggests other adverse effects based on experience.
It points to the Center for the Education of Women at the University of Michigan’s (CEW) most recent report, The Potential Impact of MCRI on Employment, Education, and Contracting, which documents a decrease in the number of contracts awarded to women- and minority-owned businesses and decreased representation of women and minorities among university professors since the passage of Prop. 209.
Another CEW report that OUM has highlighted, The Gender Impact of the Proposed MCRI, published in April 2006, says that the passage of Prop. 209 “eroded” education and professional opportunities for women in California. According to the report, the number of women and minorities in medical, computer science, and technology programs decreased following Prop. 209.
To publicize this broad impact of Prop. 209, the women’s branch of OUM, Michigan Women United, launched “Michigan Women Speak on Affirmative Action.” This TV campaign is designed to publicize the prominent role of affirmative action in creating equal access for women who would have been denied opportunities despite their strong qualifications.
Both Sides Express Confidence
Jennifer Gratz, director of the MCRI campaign and a plaintiff in the University of Michigan case, did not credit OUM with the erosion of support. Voters will remain undecided, Gratz said, until they “sit down and read the language,” according to a July 18, 2006 Detroit Free Press article.
OUM, however, interpreted the statistical dead heat as a sign of growing opposition to Proposal 2.
As LCCR’s Wade Henderson noted, “Once voters discover the true intent of MCRI, it doesn’t stand a chance.”
For more information on Proposal 2, visit www.michiganunited.org.