Securing Racial Spoils

Michigan Civil Rights Initiative would ban government affirmative action programs

By Any Means Necessary is no longer just the name of a Trotskyite fringe group determined to protect a system of racial spoils in Michigan. It is the modus operandi of the liberal opponents of the so-called Michigan Civil Rights Initiative – Proposal 2 on November’s ballot that will ban arbitrary preferences in state admissions and hiring.

The most powerful demonstrations of this are their demagogic tactics to scare women voters.

For years now MCRI opponents – including both political parties, chambers of commerce, major media, activist groups and unions in Michigan – have been trying to convince voters to jettison the Rev. Martin Luther King’s principle to judge people by the content of their character, not the color of the skin, and allow government to discriminate by race.

But public opinion appears dubious about this: MCRI, whose chief sponsor is California black businessman, Ward Connerly, is ahead in all but one recent poll.

In desperation, an anti-MCRI umbrella group of opponents called One United Michigan is trying to close this gap by changing the subject from race to gender and cynically playing to women’s fears.

Never mind that the two main proponents of the initiative are Jennifer Gratz and Barbara Gutter, One United claims MCRI will quite literally decimate all the gains by women over the last several decades. Both Ms. Gratz and Ms. Grutter sued the University of Michigan (U-M) after they were passed over for admission despite vastly superior credentials than some minority candidates admitted. Yet now they are the ones said to hurt the cause of women by supporting MCRI.

But the reality is that Proposition 2 will ensure more equity for both sexes – not return women to the kitchen.

MCRI’s express purpose – like the 1965 Civil Rights Act, whose language it mimics – is to ban government “affirmative action programs that give preferential treatment to groups or individuals based on their race, gender, color, ethnicity or national origin for public employment, education or contracting purposes.” This will certainly remove all possibility of quotas or set-asides for women-owned businesses for coveted state contracts. It will also mean public institutions would be permanently barred from employing gender-conscious hiring or admission policies. Such practices have already been ruled unconstitutional – except in rare circumstances when they serve a compelling government purpose such as correcting specific instances of past discrimination.

But that’s it. MCRI most emphatically will not put women on a fast track to apocalypse by ending state-funded breast cancer research, abolishing cervical screening programs, shuttering battered women shelters and scrapping Title IX athletic programs for girls – as claimed by MCRI foes’ latest ad campaign.

For starters, MCRI’s language – which explicitly limits its purview to “public employment, education and contracting” – has no bearing on most of the above-mentioned services and programs. Furthermore, the proposal expressly exempts all state efforts “that must be taken to establish or maintain eligibility for any federal program.” This means that all Title IX programs – that are federally mandated and funded – will be unaffected. Indeed, no less than the Citizens Research Council, a highly respected, nonpartisan research group in the state, has concluded: “Athletic programs in public education (at K-12 and university level) should not be affected by the passage of this proposal.”

That there will be life after MCRI for women is not just a matter of theoretical speculation. California, which a decade ago passed a similar initiative called Proposition 209, offers empirical proof of this. The Golden State remains the world’s largest investor in women’s disease prevention. Indeed, a pre-Proposition 209 breast cancer research program that draws its $164 million through a check-off provision on the state’s personal income tax form has continued to function unmolested. Furthermore, a “study” by MCRI opponents and U-M professors Susan W. Kaufmann and Anne K. Davis examining the lessons of Proposition 209 for Michigan was able to trace less than a half-dozen legal challenges against battered women’s shelters in California to the initiative. And these cases sought gender-neutral policies that do not deny help to men and children who are victims of domestic violence – not shutter women’s shelters, as the authors falsely suggest.

But most interestingly, Proposition 209 has had zero impact even on the composition of faculty at state universities, something that it did cover. Women comprised 36 percent of the faculty at University of California system when Prop. 209 was passed – and last year they comprised 35 percent. Nor does this mask an exodus of female professors from the more to the less elite colleges: University of California-Berkley had 30 percent female faculty 10 years ago; it has 27 percent now. University California-Los Angeles had 35 percent then and 37 percent now.

You will hear none of this from One United which, like its more radical counterpart, By Any Means Necessary, has decided misinformation and deception are perfectly acceptable tools to defeat MCRI.

BAMN has tried to keep MCRI off the ballot by one frivolous lawsuit after another – all of them defeated in court and all backed by One United. BAMN has tried to disrupt pro-MCRI rallies with bull horns and thuggish behavior. Is supporters recently doused Jennifer Gratz with Coke and threatened her with a switchblade.

Should MCRI fail this November – it will not only be a victory for discrimination, but also for the smash-mouth political tactics of fear and intimidation.

Shikha Dalmia is a senior analyst at Reason Foundation in Los Angeles. An archive of her work is here. Henry Payne is a freelance writer and editorial cartoonist for the Detroit News.