A few brief observations regarding the passage this week of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, which bans discrimination and preferences by the state government for the purposes of education, employment, and contracting:
1. Preferences of this sort are very unpopular.
How unpopular? Well, they were banned by a margin of 58-42 percent of the popular vote; in a blue state; in a Democratic year; with opponents vastly outspending the supporters; and the former calling the latter racists and sexists. The voters approved the amendment over the well-publicized objections of the corporate establishment, and the political establishment (Democratic and Republican alike), and the media establishment, and the civil rights establishment, and the labor unions, and even the clergy. And this success follows that of identical bans — also by decisive margins — in two other blue states (California and Washington) in two other Democratic years (1996 and 1998).
So, pretty unpopular.
2. The political significance of the vote is twofold.
First, it makes it likely that other states will enact similar referenda. Ward Connerly, who, along with Jennifer Gratz, ran the Michigan campaign, seems ready to make it four for four (he also ran the successful campaigns in California and Washington).
Second, it makes it more likely that Republicans nationally will rethink their stupid decision not to aggressively oppose preferences, and maybe even that Democrats will rethink their demagogic decision to embrace them.
3. The legal significance of the vote is also twofold.
First, the Supreme Court does to an extent follow “th’ illiction returns.” Specifically, those justices who worry about establishment disapproval if they do the (legally) right thing and strike down racial preferences may be reassured if the public, at least, has provided them some political cover.
Second, as more and more universities stop using racial-admission preferences, it becomes harder and harder for the remaining schools to insist that one simply cannot run a decent university without them.
Consider: The University of California public system of higher education — probably the nation’s best — has not used preferences for ten years now. The state of Washington’s public universities have not used them since 1998. Florida abandoned its system of preferences in 1999. Texas used no preferences between 1996 and 2004. The University of Georgia, too, went without preferences for a time, in the early 2000s. And now we add another highly regarded state system — Michigan’s — to the mix. Finally, bear in mind that most schools have never used racial preferences, because they just aren’t that selective. None of these schools is collapsing under the weight of nondiscrimination.
“How essential, then, can preferences be?,” the Supreme Court will eventually ask. There will be no persuasive answer.
4. And, when you think about it, how can an increasingly multi-racial and multi-ethnic America survive in the 21st century with a system of state-imposed racial and ethnic preferences? How will we decide which groups are to be preferred and which ones discriminated against, and how will we define and police membership in the various groups? This madness simply must stop.
5. Ward Connerly and Jennifer Gratz are national treasures.
– Roger Clegg is president and general counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity, which last month published three studies demonstrating the heavy weight being given to race and ethnicity by the University of Michigan in its undergraduate, law, and medical school admissions.