Meet the Women Behind the Supreme Court’s Controversial Affirmative Action Decision

But despite the rancor, the MCRI, or “Prop. 2” –- now almost as controversial as California’s “Prop. 8” –- was voted into law in November 2006 by 58 percent of the electorate.

Almost immediately, opponents of the law sued.

That’s where Shanta Driver comes in.

SHANTA DRIVER: ‘I do think she’s racist’

PHOTO: Shanta Driver, an attorney with the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, addresses the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, in San Francisco, Feb. 13, 2012.
Paul Sakuma/AP Photo
PHOTO: Shanta Driver, an attorney with the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, addresses the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, in San Francisco, Feb. 13, 2012.

You could call Driver the anti-Gratz. She’s the head of By Any Means Necessary: The Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, and she argued against Prop. 2 at the Supreme Court.

In her opinion, Gratz and her foundation are just intolerant.

“I do think she’s racist,” Driver told ABC News.

Gratz fired back, calling By Any Means Necessary a “radical” organization.

According to Driver, a Harvard-educated African-American woman who acknowledges she has benefitted from race-conscious admission policies, affirmative action is “necessary to counter racism in K-12 education.”

It’s the only way to combat the “presumption of black or Latino inferiority” still prevalent in America, she says.

This country, she points out, is quickly becoming a majority minority nation, yet minorities are still under-represented in prestigious institutions. They also bear the burden of ambassadorship –- the feeling that they’re representing not only themselves, but their entire race.

“That’s unfair,” Driver says simply.

She believes boosting minority enrollment eases some of that pressure. It also serves the rest of the student body by preparing them to interact with people from varied backgrounds.

By Any Means Necessary’s attorney spokesperson concurs.

The ruling is “really, frankly, ridiculous,” George Washington said in an interview with ABC News.

“The Supreme Court is putting their heads in the sand,” said Washington, who called Justice Anthony Kennedy (author of the majority opinion) a “frighteningly bizarre justice.”

So Who’s Right?

Both women consider themselves champions of equality. Whether you support Gratz or Driver comes down to your interpretation of a 14-word phrase found in the Fourteenth Amendment.

The Equal Protection Clause -– colloquially referred to as the EPC –- simply says that the government must not “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

But what the EPC lacks in length, it more than makes up for in controversy.

In Gratz’s opinion, the language of the EPC mandates that people of all races be treated the same. Granting minorities preferential treatment means discriminating against the majority, and that’s not fair either.

“Saying that equality violated the equal protection law –- it would have been comical if they weren’t serious,” Gratz said.

In Driver and By Any Mean Necessary’s view, it’s the amendment’s intent that’s important.

“The Fourteenth Amendment was designed specifically to protect the rights of black people in the south, who are recognized to be victims,” Washington explained. “It was never a colorblind operation.”

According to Washington, the court’s decision “ignores why the amendment was passed.”

To be clear: the court didn’t rule on the utility of affirmative action in general. The justices were careful to clarify that they were ruling only on whether Michigan voters had the right to decide the issue.

“This case is not about how the debate about racial preferences should be resolved. It is about who may resolve it. There is no authority in the Constitution of the United States or in the Court’s precedents for the Judiciary to set aside Michigan’s laws that commit this policy determination to the voters,” Justice Kennedy wrote.

So the voters’ decision stands.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Few people will argue against diversity per se. But what, exactly, constitutes diversity? And which types of diversity are important?

Does the percentage of African-American students impact learning? How about the percentage of low-income students? Or the ratio of musicians to non-musicians?

“Diversity is more than skin color,” Gratz said. “It’s unfortunate that administrators reduce it to skin color.”

Diversity, in general, is “a noble goal,” added Gratz. “But I don’t think it should trump anyone’s right to be treated equally."

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