EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the text of a speech Ward Connerly delivered at the University of Michigan today to announce the start of a Michigan Civil Rights Initiative campaign, supporting a ballot initiative to end racial preferences in the state. Connerly, who has led successful initiative campaigns in California and Washington, previously wrote about the University of Michigan Supreme Court case for NRO here.
Four days ago, we — the American people — celebrated our 227th year of independence as a nation.
Whatever our station in life — rich or poor, Democrat or Republican, conservative or liberal; whatever our sexual orientation, our ethnic background, our gender or our religion — the Fourth of July has very special meaning to all of us.
We rise early and enjoy a breakfast of pancakes and sausage at our neighborhood parks. We stand on the sidewalks and watch the parades as local high school bands play the majestic and patriotic songs of John Phillip Sousa.
We gather with family and friends to play volleyball, swim and play a game of softball, and to barbeque hot dogs and hamburgers, and to guzzle beer.
We “ooh” and “aah” at the spectacular displays of fireworks.
These festive things we do to celebrate our freedom and our liberty. But, our celebration does not begin and end with food and drink and other forms of merriment.
We pledge our allegiance to the American flag and to the ideals represented by that flag — ideals like liberty and justice for all and the aspiration of becoming “one nation, indivisible.”
We read our local newspaper and, invariably, the Declaration of Independence is printed in its entirety on the editorial page. We are reminded that as a people “we hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
There are those who say that the Declaration of Independence has no credibility; that it was written by white males at a time when Americans of African descent were considered 3/5ths of a person.
To them, the Constitution is equally flawed for the same reason.
But, for most of us, the journey down the avenue of freedom and equality began on July 4, 1776 with that proclamation that “all men are created equal.” It continued on July 9, 1868 when we enshrined as a constitutional principle the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment: “…nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the law.”
Our travels accelerated nearly a century later when the Congress enacted the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Therein, we breathed life into that declaration of our ideals and the constitutional principle of equal treatment.
We established as law the “civil right” of every person in this dear country of ours to be treated as an equal “without regard to race, color or national origin.” Every government agency in every village and hamlet of America thereby acquired the duty and the obligation to make no distinction between its citizens on the basis of the color of their skin or the origin of their ancestors when those citizens interacted with their government.
And, so it is well established that America has evolved a culture of equality established over 227 years ago and nurtured along through much pain, turbulence and, even death.
On June 23rd of this year, the highest Court in the land, with a stroke of the pen, essentially said, there is nothing sacred about our Declaration of Independence.
About the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, the Court declared: “The Equal Protection Clause does not prohibit the law school’s narrowly tailored use of race in admissions decisions to further a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body.”
With that ruling, the Supreme Court confronts the American people with some rather basic questions: Is the principle of equality so devalued that we are willing to brush it away without a moment’s hesitation and on the whim of five people? Do we not believe in the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment? Are we not obligated to comply with the Civil Rights Act of 1964?
Do we have so little confidence in the American spirit and in yet unborn Americans of African and Mexican descent that we consign them to another generation of presumed inadequacy? Is it fair to say to a black parent: your child to be born eight years from now will still need a preference when he or she applies to college in the year 2028?
I cannot describe to you the anger and humiliation that fills me as a “black” man to be viewed with such misplaced pity and misguided patronization.
Immediately following the proclamation about our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, there is an equally significant passage: “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
Those words summon us to consider our options in responding to this unjust decision.
I happen to notice yesterday that a prominent law professor proclaimed that the Supreme Court has ushered in a “new civil rights movement,” one that acknowledges a “new national consensus in favor of affirmative action.”
I suggest to that professor and others who subscribe to this perspective that you leave the walls of ivy of your sheltered academic setting and you have a cup of coffee at a few truck stops, go to a soccer game, go to a few factories, and I believe you will conclude as I have that the American people are quite content with the old civil-rights movement which embraced equal treatment under the law, not preferences based on race.
To deny Jennifer Gratz and Barbara Grutter access to UM in the name of “diversity” is a distinction without difference in denying James Meredith access to “Ole Miss” because of his race. The presumed nobleness of the cause does not wash away the fact that discrimination has occurred and an injustice has been perpetrated. Justice O’Connor and her colleagues in the majority are fully aware of this fact. Why else would they openly use the term “race preferences” and suggest that the Court might, maybe, perhaps, revisit this issue in 300 months?
“Gee, thanks, your honors!”
To the justices of the Court, I say, respectfully, that we will not wait 25 years for the principle of equal treatment to be restored.
To those among us who call for patience on our part, who counsel that we should not “stir the pot,” have you not learned the lessons of the American founding and the American civil-rights movement? Our nation was given birth and nurtured over the years in a cauldron of boiling discontent with things as they were and a desire to right them.
No matter how much we respect and rely on our universities of this nation to provide leadership, guidance, and to serve our communities, there is no compelling reason in the hearts and minds of most Americans that they should be above the law. To the contrary, they ought to be the moral conscience of this nation in the defense of our fundamental values of equal treatment, liberty and justice. We are not content to be governed by admissions officers instead of the Constitution.
In their newfound love for state’s rights — by allowing each university to discriminate on the basis of race in order to create a “critical mass” based on race — I wonder how Justice O’Connor and her colleagues in the majority would rule if the University of Michigan concluded that “diversity” isn’t all that they previously claimed?
What if the university concluded that having black students on campus created too much tension and distracted students from learning? Would it be acceptable, then, to turn black and Hispanic students away or subject them to a higher academic standard?
I am persuaded to believe that the outcome of such a hypothetical case would be far different from the ruling in Gratz and Grutter. I am equally persuaded that those who are now so enamored with the concept of “diversity” would take a quick refresher course on the true meaning of civil rights.
This is not 1963…there is no governor blocking the school house door…there is no Sheriff Bull Connor with snarling dogs straining to attack black people…this is not about simple access to college. None of those circumstances exist, thanks to the Almighty and to an American spirit that embraces the principle of “equal treatment for every person.”
And so today, I am pleased to announce that we, the people hereby assembled — including Tom Wood, coauthor of Proposition 209, Valery Pech, plaintiff in the Adarand case, as well as Jennifer Gratz and Barbara Grutter — will begin a campaign to place on the November 2004 Ballot what will be commonly known as the “Michigan Civil Rights Act.” This initiative will be patterned after the 1964 Civil Rights Act and California’s Proposition 209 to prohibit discrimination and preferences in public education, public employment, and public contracting.
In the weeks ahead, we will organize a local committee to serve as sponsor of the initiative. We will recruit a local volunteer and paid staff. We will develop a fundraising campaign. We will develop a cadre of supporters who can carry our message of equal treatment for all and preferences for none throughout the state of Michigan.
We expect that the signature-gathering process can begin by no later than September 1 and be concluded by early next year.
Our crusade will not end with the state of Michigan. In the weeks and months ahead, we will be exploring the feasibility of undertaking initiatives in other states, cities, and counties across the land.
We ask all Americans to join us in this endeavor.
— Ward Connerly is founder and chairman of the American Civil Rights Institute.