I support affirmative action. As a University of Michigan double graduate, I benefited tremendously from educational diversity. I was proud to attend a university that recognized inequality and valued multiculturalism, and I could not have imagined my personal and professional development without it.
Given this experience, I was – like many other Michigan graduates – incredibly disappointed when Michigan voters passed Prop 2, amending our state constitution to ban affirmative action. The vote against affirmative action signified a vote against opportunity and a fundamental misunderstanding of how affirmative action works. More importantly though, it amended our state constitution to discriminate against people of color. That is why we sued.
Yesterday’s U.S. Court of Appeals argument against the constitutionality of Prop 2 was not about whether affirmative action is constitutional or not – the Supreme Court of the United States already decided that it is. Instead, the heart of this argument lies in understanding our political process, one that is supposed to be free and open to all. Under Prop 2, athletes, military veterans, Christians, disabled individuals, and children of alum can all petition to have their unique and salient identities taken into consideration by the university, but Black, Hispanic, or Native American students cannot. These particular students of color are told that if they want the right to be recognized, they have to create a state-wide ballot initiative to get it back. No other group of people has to do this. Indeed, no group of people should have to create a constitutional amendment to simply have a voice.
Whether or not you think a public institution should utilize affirmative action is a personal opinion, one that should be well-informed by understanding exactly how affirmative action works. But the 14th Amendment to our U.S. Constitution guarantees equal protection under the law to all people, and all people – including Black, Hispanic, and Native American citizens – should have an equal right to affect changes in policy by being heard in the political system. Just because a majority votes to take that right away doesn’t make it constitutional.
To read more about yesterday's hearing, click here.
By Avani Bhatt, ACLU of Michigan Staff Attorney