The Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI) is in hot water after the U.S. Court of Appeals 6th Circuit in Cincinnati struck it down as unconstitutional, but top state officials have vowed to take the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The MCRI, a constitutional amendment which banned affirmative action in Michigan after voters granted it 58 percent approval at the polls in November 2006, was shot down in an 8-7 appeals court decision last week.
“Today’s landmark decision reaffirms the cornerstone principle of our democracy — that the political process must be open to all Americans,” said Mark Rosenbaum, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and University of Michigan law professor who argued the case. “It restores the argument that race is not to be disadvantaged when universities seek to enroll a diverse student body. Somewhere Lincoln and Dr. King are smiling.”
But Michigan’s attorney general sees it differently.
“MCRI embodies the fundamental premise of what America is all about: equal opportunity under the law,” Attorney General Bill Schuette stated in a press release. “Entrance to our great universities must be based upon merit. We are prepared to take the fight for equality, fairness, and the rule of law to the U.S. Supreme Court.”
The MCRI bans the consideration of race in university admissions.
The majority appeals court opinion stated that a student looking to have her family’s alumni connections considered in her application to a Michigan university has several options for having the school adopt such an admissions policy, while a black student seeking “a constitutionally permissible race-conscious admissions policy” has just one — making an attempt to amend the state constitution. Because of that, the majority of judges argued, the MCRI violates the Equal Protection Clause and its “guarantee that all citizens ought to have equal access to the tools of political change.”
This isn’t the first time the MCRI has come under legal scrutiny. A separate three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals 6th Circuit in Cincinnati in December 2006 ruled it as constitutional after multiple groups filed lawsuits over its constitutionality the day after it received voter approval in November 2006.
Then in July 2011, a three-judge panel from that same court ruled 2-1 that the MCRI violated the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, prompting Schuette to file a request for a hearing en banc — meaning a hearing by all judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals 6th Circuit in Cincinnati instead of just a three-judge panel — which produced last week’s ruling after a March 7 rehearing by the 15 judges.
Schuette expects to file a petition of certiorari — which is required of a losing party after an unfavorable ruling from the federal appellate court — with the U.S. Supreme Court within 90 days.