Equal Justice Society, headed by my dear friend and mentor, Eva Paterson, is a national strategy group heightening consciousness on race in the law and popular discourse. EJS seeks to restore race equity issues to the national consciousness, build effective progressive alliances, and advance the discourse on the positive role of government. Not surprisingly, they are at the forefront of a key battle in Michigan. -- Lovechilde
By Keith Kamisugi, cross-posted from Equal Justice Society
in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, urging the court to
strike down Michigan’s anti-equality Proposal 2 as unconstitutional.
In its brief, EJS argues that Proposal 2 violates the Equal
Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution by creating
procedural barriers for people of color.
“Since its founding, certain interests in America have tried to restrict access to the political process,” said Eva Paterson,
President of the Equal Justice Society. “First only white male
landowners could vote. The franchise was expanded after the Civil War
but women could not participate. Now we see many states erecting
barriers to voting that may appear harmless, but are designed to keep
voters of color from helping shape their political destinies. The
national civil rights community speaks in one strong voice in opposing
these measures, including Michigan’s Proposal 2.”
Several organizations joined EJS in signing the brief: the California
Voting Rights Institute, Public Advocates, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the
Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the National Women’s
Law Center, Chinese for Affirmative Action, Worksafe, South Asian
Network, the Association of Asian American Attorney and CPA Firms, the
Council of Asian American Business Associations, Equal Rights Advocates,
and the Asian American Justice Center and the Asian Pacific American
Legal Center, the latter two both members of the Asian American Center
for Advancing Justice.
Michigan voters passed Proposal 2 in 2006, amending the state’s
constitution to prevent the state government from advancing equal
opportunity by considering race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national
origin. In March 2008, a federal district court judge upheld the law,
but the decision was reversed this July by an appeals court panel. The
case is now under consideration by the full Sixth Circuit Court of
“We stand with our civil rights allies in opposing Proposal 2 and
other similar laws that exclude racial minorities and women from the
political process,” said Allison Elgart,
Supervising Attorney at the Equal Justice Society. “When people of
color have to amend the state constitution just to have their interests
represented, the law is not protecting their right to equal protection
under the law, and the court should step in.”
“Proposal 2 is the most recent example of a voter initiative that
restructures the political process in a non-neutral way and places
special burdens on racial minorities who want to lobby for
race-conscious admissions processes,” reads the brief. “Voting changes
and requirements that disproportionately impact racial minorities and
provide them less opportunity than others to participate in the
political process and effectuate their choices are violations of the
Equal Protection Clause.”
The brief cites several reasons why Proposal 2 violates the Constitution:
The law impedes participation in the political process by people of color.
After Proposal 2 passed, advocates of race-conscious admissions
policies can no longer lobby admissions committees or university
administrators. Their only recourse is to launch another statewide
initiative, a costly process that could take years to see through to its
conclusion. Advocates for other considerations in the admissions
process do not face the same burden and are free to continue lobbying
admissions committees without structural limitations.
People of color have historically faced hurdles that hinder participation in the political process.
Participation in the political process by people of color in the past
has been thwarted by literacy tests applied differently to distinct
racial groups, electoral redistricting that disfavored racial
minorities, and more recently by states that have established seemingly
innocuous voter requirement laws that often result in racial exclusion
and vote suppression. Courts have found these seemingly “neutral” laws
unconstitutional if their purpose is to impede participation by people
of color in the political process. Proposal 2 falls into this category.
Proposal 2 is a modern reincarnation of white primaries, literacy tests, and redistricting.
Like voting, lobbying to change the admissions processes in Michigan is
a way for people of color to participate in governance. The Equal
Protection Clause “guarantees racial minorities the right to full
participation in the political life of the community,” and therefore
requires that every group has equal opportunities to participate in the
decision-making process, particularly in the context of public
education. Proposal 2 prevents the full participation by people of color
in the decision-making process regarding admissions.
The case should be fully briefed before the Sixth Circuit Court of
Appeals by the end of the year and the Sixth Circuit will then set a