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A Fight To Define Equality

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By George F. Will
Sunday, September 24, 2006

DETROIT -- A feisty 29-year-old white woman and a pugnacious 67-year-old black man are performing two services this autumn for Michigan and the nation. Their Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI) is promoting colorblind government. And they are provoking remnants of the civil rights movement, which now is just a defender of a racial spoils system, to demonstrate its decadence, even thuggishness.

In November Michiganders will vote on this ballot initiative: "A proposal to amend the state constitution to ban affirmative action programs that give preferential treatment to groups or individuals based on their race, gender, color, ethnicity or national origin for public employment, education or contracting purposes." Almost identical measures were passed by referendums in California in 1996 and Washington state in 1998, in similar conditions to those here: They were opposed by both parties, all so-called civil rights organizations, most newspapers and many business leaders. What is different in Michigan is the involvement of a particularly nasty organization and an egregiously political judge.

At age 19, Jennifer Gratz, denied admission to the University of Michigan, fought the university all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. It endorsed her argument that it was an unconstitutional denial of equal protection of the law for the university to add 20 points to the scores of black, Hispanic and Native American applicants. (The maximum score was 150; a perfect 1600 SAT earned just 12 points.)

Ward Connerly is a California businessman and former member of the University of California Board of Regents. He propelled to victory the measures mandating colorblind government in California and Washington state.

With Gratz as its executive director and Connerly lending hard-earned expertise, MCRI collected 508,000 signatures, more than ever have been gathered for a Michigan initiative. In response, some opponents of MCRI have adopted four tactics, none of which involves arguing the merits of racial preferences and all of which attempt -- in the name of "civil rights," of course -- to prevent Michiganders from being allowed to vote on MCRI. The tactics have included:

· Pressuring signers of MCRI petitions to say they did not understand what they were signing. Some talk radio stations have broadcast the names of signers, and opponents of MCRI have gone to signers saying, "Did you know you signed a petition against equal opportunity?" Two who recanted their signatures, saying they had signed without reading the measure, are federal judges.

· Violently intimidating the state Board of Canvassers, which certifies that initiatives have qualified for the ballot. The Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action by Any Means Necessary (BAMN) disrupted the board's deliberations, shouting and overturning a table. Video of this can be seen at http://www.michigancivilrights.org .

· Asking a court to rule that MCRI committed "fraud" because many who signed the petition supposedly were confused -- the signers were presumably not competent to read and understand the initiative, the full text of which was printed at the top of each petition. A federal judge -- Arthur Tarnow, a Bill Clinton appointee -- sadly said he could not rule that way because, although he thinks MCRI is a fraud, whites as well as blacks were confused about it, and even if all signatures gathered in majority-black cities were invalidated, there still were enough signatures to qualify it for the ballot. So Tarnow contented himself with an extrajudicial smear of Gratz, charging that her "deception" had confused all Michigan voters, regardless of race.


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