The victory of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI) (the ballot initiative banning race, “gender,” and ethnic preferences) is the sleeper story of this election. This is a major national issue that’s been effectively off the table for three-and-a-half years, since the Supreme Court’s decision in the Michigan case. Now so-called affirmative action is back in play–not only as the subject of voter initiatives, but judicially as well.
The Supreme Court’s Michigan rulings were, on balance, a defeat for conservatives. Nonetheless, those decisions were vague and complex, leaving conservatives with much more legal running room than you might realize. There is real scope to define, limit, and even reverse what the Court ruled, particularly now that the deciding vote in the Michigan cases, Sandra Day O’Connor, has been replaced by Justice Alito.
MCRI won, despite being massively outspent by liberal opponents, and in the face of open opposition, or at best apathy, by official Michigan Republicans. A victory in the very state that, just a few years ago, was the site of so-called affirmative action’s greatest triumph powerfully reverses the national political momentum on this issue. Conservatives had largely dropped the preference issue in the wake of the Michigan decisions. But now, with conservatives re-energized, there is every prospect of future victory. And with the conservative grassroots reawakened on this issue, it’s going to be tougher for elected Republican officials to run away.
Credit here goes to Ward Connerly, who has carried this issue nationally for years, at enormous personal sacrifice. Jennifer Gratz, the young woman who was one of the key plaintiffs in the Supreme Court’s Michigan cases was the leader on the ground in Michigan, fighting virtually unfunded against a wealthy and highly organized opposition. Both Gratz and Connerly showed personal courage, fighting hatred and harassment from the other side. Finally, much credit goes to the Center for Individual Rights, which did the crucial legal work that turned back efforts to keep MCRI off the ballot.
The Supreme Court’s Michigan decision has been effectively negated on its home ground. Reverse discrimination is back on the table as a national issue. This is a great, heroic, and historic victory for conservatives.