Friday, July 1, 2011

Racism and federal vs. state rights

Two federal court of appeals judges have decided that Michigan voters were wrong in changing the state constitution to ban using affirmative action in public school admissions.
The issue, which began with the University of Michigan's use of minority-weighted admissions, goes back decades to the era of the U.S. civil rights fights of the 1950s. In those battles, federal courts overturned racist laws, mostly in Southern states.
Since then, the distinction over what is racist has become much more narrowly defined.
The Michigan ban is a continuation of this race debate.
Proponents of the ban argued that using race to determine who is admitted in the highly competitive admission process of a prestigious university like U of M amounted to racism.
On the other hand, those in favor of affirmative action argued that it is even more racist to level the playing field now after years of discrimination against minorities, even if affirmative action did tip the advantage to some races.
This is a debate about racism that has evolved to the point where both sides can accused the other side of being racist.
The interesting thing about the new federal appeals court ruling is that it raises this debate to a new level. These two judges argued that by changing the state constitution, Michigan had unfairly disadvantaged minorities, because they would find if very difficult to change the constitution back.
That is putting a much finer point on the debate over whether the historical impact of racism can be fixed by race-based laws.
And, once again, in this debate, both sides assume the mantle of by the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees equal protection for all citizens.
There also will be those who will argue that this case is not just about the definition and the solution to racism, but rather about states' rights vs. federal rights. What is the point of holding an election at the state level if such votes are trumped by federal judges?
Sounds like a Supreme Court decision is needed and that is where it will likely end up. Michigan has indicated it will appeal. The nation's top court has ruled for bans like Michigan's in the past.
One more point here, I am always suspicious of news that breaks on the Friday before the Fourth holiday. It is traditionally the time that politicians try to sneak in the news that they hope no one will notice.


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