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Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

The faces of anti-affirmative action

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Oh the irony!  

As the Supreme Court announced that it is going to place a second affirmative action case on its calendar, a review of Michigan’s Prop 2 affirmative action ban, which will join the case already before them (Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin), I thought I’d go back and review the right wing’s media presentation of all of this, and look at just who are the poster faces for the movement to eradicate programs in universities that help gain more access to higher education for those who are not privileged-blacks, latinos and native americans.  

Two white women and a black man are ostensibly leading the charge. I say ostensibly since the two women are named in legal cases and the third, the black man, claims to be a crusader for civil rights, but it only took a few moments to figure out that the same old right wing wrong-headed big money supporters of bigotry are forking over the green-backs to roll-back gains we’ve made since the 60’s.  

Those of us (of all colors and genders) who have been long-term supporters of, and fighters for civil rights, need to pay closer attention to the cynical manipulation of the goals, aims and images of our movement.  

What was voted on in Michigan and passed back in 2006 was called the “Michigan Civil Rights Initiative“.  

The Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI), or Proposal 2 (Michigan 06-2), was a ballot initiative in the U.S. state of Michigan that passed into Michigan Constitutional law by a 58% to 42% margin on November 7, 2006, according to results officially certified by the Michigan Secretary of State. By Michigan law, the Proposal became law on December 22, 2006. MCRI was legislation aimed at stopping the preferential treatment of minorities (by race, color, sex, or religion) in getting admission to colleges, jobs, and other publicly funded institutions. It was decried by some opponents as a repeal of the 1964 civil rights act.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit overturned MCRI on July 1, 2011.[2] Judges R. Guy Cole Jr. and Martha Craig Daughtrey said that “Proposal 2 reorders the political process in Michigan to place special burdens on minority interests.” Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said he will appeal the court ruling.

Bill Schutte, Attorney General for the State of Michigan announced his appeal of the Sixth Circuit’s decision on July 28, 2011. The MCRI stands in effect until this appeal is complete.

On November 16, 2012, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, sitting en banc, upheld the earlier ruling that the MCRI is unconstitutional. Schuette announced his intention to appeal to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court of the United States granted certiorari in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action on March 25, 2013.

The face associated as the poster gal for this reactionary Prop, and its supporters is that of Jennifer Gratz.

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Gratz is being cheered on by the right-wing National Review, who have announced her new foundation “to help in the fight against racial preferences” and they have dubbed her “a national treasure”.  

Oh she is truly a bigots civil rights fighter’s delight.

Her crime partner of civil liberties (though they seem to be at odds these days) is Ward Connerly. He is well-paid (too well paid according to recent investigations of hanky panky) head honcho of the “American Civil Rights Institute”  which is described as “a national non-profit organization in opposition to racial and gender preferences”.

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Back in 2006, Right Wing Watch posted a piece on his agenda:

Ward Connerly – who ten years ago spearheaded California’s successful ballot initiative to end affirmative action in education, two years later worked to end it in Washington state, and this year joined the effort in Michigan, where a ban on affirmative action also passed – announced today that he is exploring nine more states: Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, Oregon, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Utah. “Three down and 20 to go,” he said in a conference call this morning, referring to the number of states that have ballot initiative procedures.

Connerly was joined by Jennifer Gratz, a white student who sued the University of Michigan after being rejected for admission and who later led the ballot initiative to ban affirmative action outright. Gratz will join Connerly’s American Civil Rights Institute to work on the expansion of these bans. “We’ve always felt that if we could win in Michigan, we could win anywhere,” she said.

Despite the name of Connerly’s group, efforts like the Michigan ban have been opposed by major civil rights organizations. Connerly did pick up support from one major group: “If the Ku Klux Klan thinks equality is right, God bless them,” he said.

The third face is that of poor, discriminated against Abigail Fisher, who because of preferences given to those privileged colored folks, didn’t get accepted into the Univ of Texas.

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Oh…wait…hold the presses, seems like po’ little discriminated against Miz Fisher wasn’t denied a place because of her race.

Imagine that?

Pro-publica has exposed the flaws in her case.  

Why am I not surprised.

And then we find out more about her knight in shining hood armor, attorney Edward Blum, who Salon has dubbed “The right wing’s Supreme Court Whisperer“.

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They point out:

“The bulk of his money comes from a group called Donors Trust, which is a basically a clearing house that funds front groups to push a whole bunch of right-wing policy goals, from tort reform to climate change denial to school choice to voter rights challenges.”

Indeed, Donors Trust provides the legal fees Blum pays to lawyers who take up his cases – “millions” over the years. The organization is sort of like the United Way of conservative political philanthropy in that big donors can funnel money to the group, which then distributes it to friendly organizations.

On its website, the group says it is “explicitly devoted to supporting organizations that promote liberty” and calls itself “an innovative charitable vehicle for donors who wish to safeguard their charitable intent to fund organizations that undergird America’s founding principles.” Liberals have called it a “an anonymous tax-deductible policy slush fund” that’s “almost a laundering operation” for wealthy donors.”

All snarkiness aside, rather than allow the right-wing to frame the arguments, take the time to listen to the attorney for protecting affirmative action, George B. Washington, who is one of the lead lawyers for BAMN, which stands for “By any Means Necessary”.  

He give the history, makes the links between cases and points to the use of the term “preferences” as right-wing framing of the issue of affirmative action.  

The dismantling of affirmative action is having negative results in California, which Erica Perez discusses in “Despite diversity efforts, UC minority enrollment down since Prop. 209

More than a decade after California law banned race-conscious admissions, outreach and financial aid at public universities, the state’s most selective public university system has seen a significant impact on its ability to increase enrollments of African American, Latino and American Indian students.

A ruling by the Supreme Court ending race-based preferences in college admissions would have a limited effect in California because state law already prohibits it. But as other states consider the effects of a Supreme Court ruling on their own college populations, they might observe what’s happened in the Golden State.

The University of California Board of Regents in 1995 passed a resolution that eliminated race, religion, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin as criteria for admission to the university. The following year, California voters approved Proposition 209, which went further by also prohibiting race-conscious outreach and financial aid.

The percentage of underrepresented minority students admitted to the UC system dropped significantly as soon as Prop. 209 passed. Today, despite a number of policies and strategies employed by the university to diversify its student population, these groups remain a substantially smaller proportion of those admitted to and enrolled at the university’s most selective campuses – UC Berkeley and UCLA – than they were before the elimination of race-conscious policies.

What’s more, the gap between the percentage of underrepresented minority students graduating from California high schools and the percentage enrolling at UC has widened

I echo the sentiments of Pamela Newkirk, journalism professor at NYU who wrote last year

On Wednesday the U.S. Supreme Court will once again consider the merits of affirmative action and the plight of purportedly victimized whites, ripping the scab from a deep and scarcely healed American wound.

The ever-contentious debate sparked anew by Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin is likely to overshadow recent figures showing the widening household-income gap between non-Hispanic whites and African-Americans and the stubbornly low black and Latino high-school graduation rates that persistently keep higher education out of the reach of millions. A new study from the Schott Foundation for Public Education found that just 52 percent of black and 58 percent of Latino males graduate from high school in four years, compared with 78 percent of non-Latino whites.

In 2011 the median household income of African-Americans was $32,229, compared with $55,412 for non-Hispanic whites. The median black household income dropped from 2010 by 2.7 percent, twice the percentage for non-Hispanic whites. Furthermore, the latest census figures show that 27.6 percent of all blacks lived below the official poverty threshold, nearly three times the rate for non-Hispanic whites. And while the percentage of whites living in poverty slightly declined in 2011, the percentage of blacks slightly increased.

Against this backdrop of pain, inequality, and upheaval, fear of white disenfranchisement seems oddly out of place. The cold numbers do little to illuminate the suffering of many people across the country who have the misfortune of being born into underresourced and woefully neglected school districts. Those districts remain overwhelmingly populated by blacks and Latinos. In my home state of New York, just 37 percent of black and Latino males graduate from high school in four years, a jaw-dropping figure that is rivaled only by the rate in the nation’s capital.

So as much of the blogger and media attention is riveted on Prop 8, and marriage equality at SCOTUS, don’t forget to consider what is part of a concerted effort to roll-back the clock on civil rights and education.

The struggle continues…

Cross-posted from Black Kos


  1. DeniseVelez

    to get rid of affirmative action, end reproductive rights, stifle the vote, fight marriage equality…are clear.

    Follow the funding.  

  2. Using “civil rights” in that way is a perversion of our language and a willful misreading of history.

    I think you could have left the elision off of hood in “shining hood” because there is little space between the current day racists with their suits and briefcases and the sweaty riders wearing white sheets and brandishing nooses. In this case, the nooses are for an economic strangling of our minority youth by denying them the opportunity to get into an elite university.

    The struggle does continue and we do need to keep our eyes on this. Just as women’s reproductive rights are under attack again in a battle we thought we had won back in the 70s, the way back machine is resurrecting the old canard about reverse discrimination.

    The answer to the question “When will we be done with these battles?” is … never. As long as there are people of bad faith, there will need to be people of good faith fighting them tooth and nail.

  3. bill d

    has denied anyone of anything but we better just go ahead and get rid of those laws because people of color get all of the great breaks in life?

    Got it.

    There is no good excuse for getting rid of those laws……except for the one obvious one, the one that they will scream and howl if you accuse them of it.  

  4. slksfca

    Just last night the local news was talking about the Michigan case before the Supremes and noted in that context that this past year there was only one black student admitted to UC Berkeley’s Boalt Law School, out of I-forget-how-many total students.

    This I find unacceptable.

  5. Sure, there may be racists somewhere behind any move to limit affirmative action. There may be idiots.


    There is and always will be a very fundamental and defensible argument against affirmative action which its supporters must openly acknowledge and counter until the – inevitable and desirable – day that they finally lose the battle. That argument is, in a few words:

    Discriminating to end discrimination is at its very best an emergency measure to be used as briefly as possible.

    There is no way around the point that discriminating based on ethnicity or gender is discriminating based on ethnicity or gender. One can argue that in times when one group has vastly disproportionate advantages that it is necessary to discriminate in favor of the other group(s) in order to begin to level the playing field.

    That argument has been made in the past and I agree with those decisions.

    But – and it is a huge, sky-eclipsing “but” – there has to be an explicit acknowledgement by proponents that there will come a moment when all they have fought for must be torn down. It should not only be accepted, it should be researched and planned for. Affirmative Action supporters should write the papers showing precisely at which point based on what empirical indicators it will be time to remove all race-based legalities.

    There can be no victory whatsoever if one set of racial laws is forever replaced with another, however laudable the intent. Until affirmative action supporters embrace that worldview, folks like myself will continue to find it hard to support them wholeheartedly.

    It may well be that opponents of affirmative action are trying to make supporters angrily shout the equivalent of “Screw those privileged white folks!”. If so they are succeeding.

  6. louisprandtl

    “Imagined” for us. Unfortunately racial discrimination and prejudices in this country are still significant factors affecting people’s lives. True things have improved since 60s but we have miles to go before we can truly claim to be post racial. Yes overt racism may not that prevalent compared to pre 60s America but institutional and underlying race based discrimination are still widespread.  

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