ACLU, NAACP File Lawsuit to Allow University of Michigan Admissions Programs to Continue

December 19, 2006
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: media@aclu.org

Civil Rights Groups Are Asking Court to Interpret Proposal 2

DETROIT - Filing a lawsuit today on behalf of 19 students, faculty and applicants to the University of Michigan, a coalition of civil rights groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP, are asking a federal court to declare that the newly passed Proposal 2 has not changed the Supreme Court’s view, stated as recently as 2003, that it is constitutionally permissible for universities to consider race and gender as one factor among many in university admissions.

"We are pleased to be able to represent current students and faculty, as well as prospective students, in a case that will be the first to evaluate exactly what Proposal 2 means in this state," said Kary Moss, Executive Director of the ACLU of Michigan. "The recent decisions by the United States Supreme Court made clear that it is entirely within the law for universities to consider race or gender as one of many criteria in selecting their student body. Proposal 2 should not change that."

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit, asks the court to issue a "declaratory ruling" explaining that Proposal 2 does not ban programs that use race or gender as part of the decision-making process in any manner whatsoever. Such a construction of the language of Proposal 2 would place an unconstitutional burden on the ability of protected groups to advance their interests and rights while leaving other members of the community free to advance theirs without any similar burdens.

Rev. Wendell Anthony, President of the NAACP, Detroit Chapter, said, "Affirmative Action is still the law of the land. Recent events in Michigan related to the passage of Proposal 2 have only increased our energy to keep the doors of equal opportunity open and accessible for all of America's sons and daughters. We have come too far to allow the doors of opportunity to be shut in the face of the American promise of liberty and justice."

Proponents of Proposal 2, called the "Michigan Civil Rights Initiative," have asserted from the beginning that it would not end all affirmative action but, instead, would only make it "unconstitutional to pick winners and losers based solely on race and sex."

One of the plaintiffs represented in today’s lawsuit is Chase Cantrell, an African American Detroit native who is in his second year at the University of Michigan Law School. Cantrell also obtained his BA from the university and is the first in his family to attend graduate school.

"After many years as a student at the university, I have learned to achieve a better understanding of world culture through the eyes of students and faculty from a wide range of backgrounds," Cantrell said. "Although I was invited to attend Cornell Law School, I chose the University of Michigan because the student body is so much more dynamic."

In the 2003 case Grutter v. University of Michigan, the Supreme Court held that the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution does not prohibit the narrowly tailored use of race in admissions decisions to further a compelling interest in obtaining the education benefits that flow from a diverse student body. Moreover, the Supreme Court has found that a state law violates the equal protection clause when it makes it more difficult for certain racial minorities than for other members of the community to achieve legislation that is in their interest.

The plaintiffs are represented by Melvin Butch Hollowell of the NAACP; Moss, Michael Steinberg and Mark Fancher of the ACLU of Michigan; ACLU of Southern California Legal Director Mark Rosenbaum; Theodore Shaw and Victor Bolden of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund; Dennis Parker and Alexis Agathocleous of the national ACLU Racial Justice Project; Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe; Duke Law Professor Erwin Chemerinsky; and Reginald Turner of Michigan law firm Clark Hill.

The complaint is available online at: www.aclu.org/racialjustice/aa/27741lgl20061219.html

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