State Department of Civil Rights Not In Line With Gov. Snyder's Views

Despite vote of state citizens, department files brief to overturn constitutional amendment

Gov. Rick Snyder has been in office more than two years, yet the Michigan Department of Civil Rights continues to advocate policy that is consistent with that of former Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

The department opposes the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative and wants the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the 6th Circuit Court decision that declared it unconstitutional.

However, that "does not represent the Governor's position,” said Kurt Weiss, a spokesman for Gov. Snyder.

The MCRI outlawed preferential treatment of minorities (by race, color, sex, or religion) in getting admission to colleges, jobs, and other publicly funded institutions. It was Proposal 2 on Michigan's 2006 statewide ballot. At the time, the Democract and Republican political parties, most of the state universities, many corporations and unions, most political candidates, and most of the media opposed the amendment. Despite this, it passed by a 58 to 42 percent margin

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The Michigan Department of Civil Rights has a different structure than other state departments. Its policy is controlled by the Michigan Civil Rights Commission. A governor appoints members to the commission when vacancies arise, usually due to expiring terms.

If half or more of the commission members were still Gov. Granholm appointees, the department’s continued opposition to MCRI could be easily explained. But that’s not the situation.

Gov. Snyder made two appointments in January. Now, six of the eight commission members were appointed by him. No more than four members can be from the same political party. However, previous governors have still managed to find Independents and others to appoint who would represent their policy positions.

Inside Michigan Politics Editor Bill Ballenger said a state department adopting a stance that's in opposition to the governor's position is not normal.

"It's extremely unusual,” Ballenger said. "Actually, I'd even say it was kind of weird. Maybe they (department officials) think it's their place to just do what they want. But, honestly, I'm at a loss to explain it."

While running for governor in 2010, Snyder said he had personally opposed the MCRI when it was on the ballot, but would stand by the will of the Michigan voters.

The MCRI was challenged in court and the Michigan Department of Civil Rights (at that time under Gov. Granholm) joined that challenge. It filed an amicus brief, arguing that the MCRI should be struck down.

In 2012, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court ruled the MCRI unconstitutional. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette appealed that decision. Less than three weeks ago, on March 25, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would take up the case.

The first sign that the Michigan Civil Rights Department is still representing Gov. Granholm's position on the MCRI came in the department's response to that March 25 announcement.

"MDCR has long advocated that diversity of all kinds creates a learning environment that prepares students for a global workplace they will graduate into," department director Daniel H. Krichbaum said in the release. "We believe the Supreme Court will agree with the Court of Appeals ruling that race cannot be the only prohibited consideration when a university is comparing two qualified applicants."

Krichbaum is a holdover from the Gov. Granholm days.

Earlier this month, Krichbaum announced that he is leaving the department when his term ends at the end of July. He reportedly was already planning to leave.

The official position held by the department is that it opposes the MCRI.

"We submitted an amicus brief in the 6th circuit court. We support that ruling," said MDCR spokesperson Leslee Fritz. "We are confident that the Supreme Court will uphold it."

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