By the Content of Their Character

by Henry Payne
The Supreme Court vindicates an unlikely civil-rights heroine in Michigan.

Detroit — Jennifer Gratz is a model of diversity. The daughter of a policeman and a secretary in Southfield, Mich., she was the first person in her family to apply to college, sporting a résumé that included a 3.8 grade point average, 25 ACT score, and membership in the National Honor Society and student council. She was class vice president. Yet she was denied admission to the University of Michigan because racial preferences stacked the deck against her and her white, Asian, Indian, and Jewish peers by granting 20 points to black or Latino students, on an 80-point scale; a perfect standardized test score, by comparison, was worth 12 points.

To end this injustice, Gratz led an ultimately successful ballot initiative in 2006 that wrote into Michigan’s constitution the words of the 1964 Civil Rights Act: “[Public universities] shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin.” No one in recent years has done more than Gratz (and her black colleague Ward Connerly) to advance Martin Luther King’s dream of a racially blind society where students are judged not “by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Gratz’s achievement, and yet this civil-rights pioneer is vilified by Democrats and their media allies as an enemy of civil rights. Such is the intellectual poverty of the modern Left, which argues, in defiance of all evidence, that minorities cannot advance without racial discrimination.

ACLU attorney Mark Rosenbaum, who argued before the Supreme Court in favor of racial preferences, said Tuesday that “the big losers are the citizens and the students of the state of Michigan. It’s going to put true educational diversity out of reach.”

Rosenbaum’s objection ignores reality. In truth, as Michigan admissions officers will attest, U-M, Michigan State, and other elite Michigan universities have historically benefited minority children of privilege in order to meet their racial quotas, because not enough qualified minorities from the awful inner-city public schools of Detroit, Pontiac, etc. apply to higher ed.

What is more diverse? A black private-high-school grad and daughter of a GM executive going to class with a white private-high-school grad and son of a GM executive? Or either of the above attending school with a peer, like Gratz, from a very different socioeconomic background?

The New York Times in its coverage (echoing the AP and other news outlets) also chided the decision for allegedly harming minorities: “States that forbid affirmative action in higher education, like Florida and California, as well as Michigan, have seen a significant drop in the enrollment of black and Hispanic students in their most selective colleges and universities.”

The Times’ “reporting” ignores the real picture. In truth, racially blind admissions have helped minorities gain that most significant of collegiate rewards: a diploma.

Since Michigan banned discrimination in college admissions, the black graduation rate at U-M Ann Arbor has risen from 71 to 78 percent — though it is still short of the white and Asian graduation rates of 90 percent. Students with diplomas are more marketable than dropouts. According to the extensive research of UCLA law professor Rick Sander, the effect of Prop 209 — a similar ban on race preferences passed by California voters in 1996 — has been to increase the number of minority graduates overall despite reduced numbers of minority entrants at elite Berkeley and UCLA. Minority students have entered colleges for which they were better matched — with the result that four-year graduation rates for blacks at UC San Diego, for example, have doubled from 26 percent to 52 percent. That’s a rate nearly on par with the rates for whites and Asians.

Prop 209 “has produced better students all around,” notes Sander. Yet the mainstream media ignore this good news because it does not fit their narrative.

“The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race,” says Justice John Roberts. That was the promise of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. That’s the promise of the 2006 Michigan Civil Rights Initiative. Thank you, MLK, and Jen Gratz.  

— Henry Payne is an auto critic for the Detroit News and a syndicated editorial cartoonist.