SCOTUS to hear arguments for, against MI affirmative action ban

BY RICK PLUTA
Michigan Public Radio Network

For the second time in a decade, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether Michigan’s university admissions policies are constitutional. Ten years ago, the challenge was to the University of Michigan’s use of affirmative action to ensure diversity on campus. Tomorrow, civil rights groups will argue against the state’s voter-approved ban on affirmative action.

Jennifer Gratz was here in Washington a decade ago. Her attorneys argued before the Supreme Court that the University of Michigan’s affirmative action policy violated her right to a seat in a classroom and not just a spot on a waiting list. Back then, the court delivered a split decision. It threw out the point system the university used to deny Gratz a first-round admission. But it also allowed the limited use of affirmative action to help recruit minorities.

“Personal victory for me,” said Gratz. “Principled victory for the University of Michigan. I followed that up by starting a ballot initiative.”

That ballot initiative was Proposal Two of 2006. It amended the state constitution to outlaw the use of race or gender-conscious policies in university admissions and public employment.

Now, the amendment is being challenged by a critics who say it enables discrimination and disables universities’ efforts to recruit and admit minority students. It’s up to Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette to defend the amendment.

“We’re not discriminating against anybody,” said Schuette. “If anything, we’re discriminating against discrimination.”

Schuette said he’s confident he’ll win. He said the Supreme Court has already moved in that direction by setting parameters around the use of affirmative action.

“Preferences are barely constitutional,” said Schuette. “That’s just the state of the law.”

But opponents said Michigan’s ban on race-conscious admissions has set back diversity efforts at places like the University of Michigan.

“Only 4.7 percent of the undergraduate student population is African American. Only 4.7 percent is Latino. Point-one-nine is Native American. And considering that we live in a diverse state where 14 percent of the state population is African American,” said PhD student Jessica Moorman. “This is a state institution, a public institution, an institution that’s clearly not serving all of the citizens of the state.”
The opponents’ case is that Proposal Two created a two-tiered system for people who want to go to the governing board of U-of-M or any other public institution seeking to right an unfairness. They said athletes, children of alumni and others can expect to have their concerns addressed. They say complaints by students from racial minorities are treated differently.

“If you are a student of color, you would have to pass a constitutional amendment to have your concerns raised or acted upon,” said UM psychology professor Rosario Cabello. She is one of the collection of U-of-M faculty members and former students who are plaintiffs challenging the amendment.

Cabello said minority students and would-be students should not have to launch a ballot campaign to have their complaints addressed.

But win or lose, Jennifer Gratz said she does not expect the Supreme Court decision will settle the controversy surrounding affirmative action.

“I have no doubt that regardless of what happens at the Supreme Court, this battle will continue on for a long time. And I didn’t always believe that was true, but I’ve come to the realization that there isn’t going to be a day where either side can stand up and say, We’ve won. This is over.”

Copyright 2013, MPRN

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Alma College hosts same sex marriage panel

BY DAVID NICHOLAS

The ramifications of the Supreme Court’s same sex rulings will be discussed this Wednesday at Alma College.

Organizers of the event will welcome two guests to present, “Same-sex Marriage and the Constitution: Exploring the Issues.”

Professor Margo Schlanger teaches Civil Rights at the University of Michigan.

She said when the high court overturned the Ninth Circuit Court’s rejection of Prop 8, it only settled a portion of the challenge.

“But it did not reach the federal Constitutional question of, is Proposition 8, which as I say is akin to the Michigan situation, is Proposition 8 constitutional or unconstitutional? So the Supreme Court has not decided the Constitutional status of a state referendum barring same sex couples from access to marriage rights, the issue has not been litigated in the Supreme Court,” Schlanger said.

The panel discussion at Alma College is free and open to the public. It is scheduled for 7pm Wednesday in the Swanson Academic Center Room 113. It’s part of Alma College’s Constitution Day programming.

SCOTUS “juvenile lifer” decision would not apply to past cases under Senate bill

BY RICK PLUTA
Michigan Public Radio Network

Legislation to overhaul Michigan’s juvenile lifer law would not apply to inmates already sentenced to life without parole as teenagers. The bills were adopted Tuesday by the state Senate Judiciary Committee. The legislation is required because the U.S. Supreme Court struck down automatic life-without-parole sentences for juveniles.

Jonathan Sacks is with the State Appellate Defenders Office. He said not every inmate sentenced to life without parole as a teenager deserves to be released. But he said some of them should have a chance at parole.

“That’s not to say they didn’t make the ultimate decision to be there. Some of the ones who didn’t pull the trigger might be just as guilty, but some of the ones truly were there because of peer pressure and should get a term-of-years sentence for that level of participation and that intent,” Sacks said.

The Senate bill said the law will apply retroactively only if a court orders it. A federal judge is watching Michigan’s efforts to comply with the ruling.

Copyright 2013, MPRN

MI Supreme Court order guarantees interpreters in legal proceedings

BY RICK PLUTA
Michigan Public Radio Network

People who struggle to speak and understand English are guaranteed an interpreter under a rule that was adopted Wednesday by the Michigan Supreme Court. The rule will apply to all courts in the state.

Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Young said language should not be a barrier to justice. And, he said, the wave of immigration from other countries has made the need to address that more urgent.

“We have a great deal more non-English-speaking citizens and non-citizens in our state that are involved in our legal system either the civil or criminal side of it,” Young said.

Young said advances in technology have also made interpreter services more available.

The rule said criminal defendants and witnesses will never have to pay for an interpreter. In some cases, courts could try to recover interpreter costs from parties to a lawsuit.

Copyright 2013, MPRN

State employees take right-to-work challenge to MI Supreme Court

BY RICK PLUTA
Michigan Public Radio Network

State employees are taking their right-to-work law challenge to the Michigan Supreme Court. They hope for a decision that said state civil service rules trump the new right-to-work law.

State employees lost last month in the Michigan Court of Appeals, which ruled the right-to-work law applies to every workplace, including state offices. Unions argued that 35,000 state Civil Service employees are exempt from the law because of language in the Michigan Constitution. It said the state Civil Service Commission and its rules govern state workers.

State employee unions are in the middle of negotiating a new contract with Governor Rick Snyder’s administration. Both sides said they intend to wait for what courts decide, and not make it a point in the discussions. There’s no deadline for the state Supreme Court to decide whether to hear the case. The court has a five-two Republican majority.

Copyright 2013, MPRN

MI Supreme Court asked to decide fate of “medibles”

BY JAKE NEHER
Michigan Public Radio Network

A medical marijuana cardholder has appealed a drug possession conviction to the Michigan Supreme Court. The appeal seeks clarification on how the law views putting marijuana or its active ingredient into baked goods.

Earl Caruthers was stopped with some THC-laced brownies in the back of his car. He also had some pot in plastic bags, and was driving on a suspended license. But he’s only challenging a conviction related to the brownies. The Oakland County Circuit Court allowed the prosecutor to use the entire weight of the brownies as evidence that Carruthers possessed more than the two and a half ounces allowed under the state’s medical marijuana law. He said that’s not what voters wanted when they approved the law in 2008. He said that interpretation would essentially outlaw so-called “medibles.” He said not everyone can, should, or wants to smoke marijuana that they’re otherwise legally entitled to use.

There’s no word on when or if the Michigan Supreme Court will decide whether to take the case.

Copyright 2013, MPRN

Hearings open on fixing juvenile lifer law

BY RICK PLUTA
Michigan Public Radio Network

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The state Legislature held a hearing Tuesday on re-writing Michigan’s juvenile lifer law. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled earlier this summer that it is unconstitutional.

The state is appealing a federal court order to hold parole hearings for more than 350 inmates sentenced to automatic life without parole for first degree murder.

In the meantime, the Legislature must re-write the law.

State Representative Joe Haveman said action is overdue. And he said the new law should apply to people currently sentenced to life without parole as juveniles.

“I’m not suggesting that these men and women should be set free. I’m suggesting that a small number of them may someday deserve a second look,” Haveman said.

“I don’t think for a 16-year-old, he shouldn’t have to think too hard to say, kill or not-kill,” Cotaling said.

Jack Cotaling said he and his family thought his son’s killers’ fate was settled. He says parole hearings would force his family to re-live their tragedy.