The Civil Rights Showdown in Michigan

In probably one of the most ironic statements ever uttered by a public official, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick expressed opposition to the soon-to-be-decided Michigan Civil Rights Initiative by declaring that affirmative action (read racial preferences) would reign in Michigan “today, tomorrow, and forever.”

Though it’s hard to believe that he really considered the implications of those words, he actually rendered a great service to all who are genuinely interested in the cause of civil rights.

The reason is that by evoking the memory of George Wallace’s campaign to preserve segregation in the South, Kilpatrick didn’t just come up with a catchy five-second sound bite: He inadvertently let slip (to those interested in detecting it) the true nature of today’s grossly inaccurately termed “civil rights” movement.

The irrefutable truth is that, far from advocating equal treatment for all Americans under the law, the radicalized movement has come to embody much the same principles espoused by Wallace and his followers. Namely, that civil rights should extend more to some people than others.

This is precisely why the leaders of these pseudo-civil rights groups go positively apoplectic when faced with a notion as innocuous as that of having hiring, admissions, or contracting decisions made without regard to race, sex, ethnicity, or national origin.

This concept, which is exactly what any objective person would consider the very definition of equal rights, is just what the Michigan initiative proposes.

The origin of the citizen referendum was a lawsuit filed by Jennifer Gratz (currently the executive director of the initiative) when she was unfairly refused admission to the University of Michigan. She was rejected despite having much superior credentials to many minority applicants accepted under an infamous system that engaged in brazen and shameless racial discrimination.

The format under which Gratz was excluded featured grids unashamedly specifying particular combinations of grade-point averages and test scores by which minorities would be accepted and whites—at much higher performance levels—would not.

Gratz, who was 12th in her graduating class with a 3.8 grade point average and had a plethora of impressive extracurriculars (including Student Council vice president), vividly recalls the disappointment of being treated as a pawn on the racial preferences chess board.

“I was devastated when I got my rejection letter,” she said.

“Then I started to watch people get acceptance letters who had lower grades and less extracurricular activities, and I started to think back to rumors I’d heard that the University used race in their admissions policies.”

After a painstaking and time-consuming process of getting the University to release its admissions criteria (which it obviously did not wish to have exposed), Gratz filed a discrimination lawsuit that caused the University of Michigan to change its approach.

But it was only cosmetic, designed to camouflage the fact that nothing had really changed.

Now, instead of openly relying on a rigidly discriminatory table, the university adopted a point system that was no less flagrant in its effect.

Under the new format, all applicants were judged according to a 150-point scale—with the minor catch that minorities automatically received 20 bonus points.

Though the university issued an intelligence-insulting assurance that race was “only 1 of many factors” taken into account, anyone possessing moderate intellectual faculties could see the bogus nature of the claim.

For instance, much was made out of the fact that a perfect standardized test score was worth a comparatively miniscule 12 points.

Though this was bad enough, when one took into account that anyone applying to as exclusive an institution as the University of Michigan undoubtedly scored well—though perhaps not perfect—the actual difference between competing applicants would be little more than a point or two.

Similarly, while a much greater number of points were indeed awarded based on grade-point average than race, the relatively small difference among students who all did well in high school hardly began to offset the decisive advantage the race-based points allowed.

It did, however, allow university officials to disingenuously state that the “vast majority of the points” were based on grades and test scores.

Though the U.S. Supreme Court rightly ruled against this abomination, it inexplicably turned right around and upheld racial preferences in another case involving the Michigan law school (with the inscrutable Justice Sandra Day O’Connor arbitrarily declaring that racial preferences would be needed for another 25 years to achieve their purpose).

Thus, the high court abjectly blew it. With exquisite illogic, it held that quotas are fine—as long as they don’t look like quotas. Or, put another way, quotas are taboo—but systems that practically guarantee the same results are perfectly acceptable.

Understandably concluding that it would take O’Connor’s quarter-century to figure that one out, Jennifer Gratz and others like her decided to go forward with a ballot initiative.

Predictably, they were disparaged from the very start.

First, detractors tried to keep the measure off the ballot, arguing that the initiative’s name somehow ‘misled’ people into signing the requisite petitions.

“Our opponents have a real problem calling this a civil rights initiative,” Gratz says. “Because they believe civil rights apply only to some people.”

But she knows there was more to it than that, of course.

“They didn’t want people to vote on this issue, because they knew it would be easier to defeat in the courts than at the polls.”

Upon failing to preempt the initiative, the opposition really went ballistic, with hysterical rants raging from specious claims that passing the initiative will result in closings of domestic violence shelters and promising single-sex classrooms, as well as the denying of breast and cervical cancer screenings.

But most abhorrent are the dire warnings that treating all citizens equally will somehow bring about unspecified catastrophic consequences comparable to 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina.

Still, Gratz remains confident the initiative will prevail (and indeed it has been leading despite the barrage of ridiculous attacks, being spurned by Republicans who should know better, and being badly outspent).

“We don’t need big bucks, or to try to confuse or scare people,” Gratz maintains.

All they have to do is appeal to simple fairness.

But regardless of the outcome, Gratz believes that the momentum to roll back indefensible discrimination in the name of equality will continue, predicting similar efforts in other states.

And well it should. Though the unprincipled, unworthy opposition will continue to insist that preferences are needed because discrimination still occurs—as it undoubtedly does—the hard facts attest to the encouraging progress this country has made in race relations.

Minorities (especially blacks) have greatly advanced in most every respect, with the vast majority of them graduating from high school, and around half achieving middle class status and owning their own homes—many in suburban neighborhoods where they couldn’t have lived previously.

Does this mean we live in a perfect society? Emphatically not.

But the evidence clearly shows (Justice O’Connor’s clairvoyance to the contrary) that genuine injustices can be addressed on a case-by-case basis without fear of institutionalized discrimination.

In fact, it appears that the only systematic discrimination left is precisely the type that Mayor Kilpatrick wants to preserve “today, tomorrow, and forever.”

Would that this pronouncement will eventually—and soon—go the ignoble way of its predecessor.