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Michigan appeals striking of affirmative action law

By Mary Wisniewski

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Michigan's attorney general on Friday appealed a federal appeals court decision that struck down a law banning affirmative action in college admissions.

The 6th U.S. Circuit of Appeals, in a 2-1 decision July 1, found that an amendment to the Michigan constitution impermissibly burdens racial minorities.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette Friday requested that all 16 judges on the 6th Circuit court rehear the case. The law, known as the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, will stay in effect pending a final decision by the court.

"It's absurd to conclude that banning racial discrimination somehow perpetuates racial discrimination," said Schuette, in a statement. "It simply defies common sense."

George Washington, a Detroit attorney who represented a civil rights group opposing the law, has said Michigan universities already give special consideration in admissions to certain groups of students, including those from rural backgrounds, those with lower incomes, and veterans.

What the law does is prohibit racial and ethnic minorities from asking for the same consideration in admissions as other groups, Washington said. He expects the case to eventually reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

Schuette said the 6th Circuit ruling conflicts with earlier rulings of the same court, and is in conflict with rulings by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and the California Supreme Court, which upheld a nearly identical California ban on racial and gender preferences.

The fight over affirmative action policies at Michigan's public colleges and universities began in the 1960s and 1970s, when African-American and other minority students first successfully lobbied for the policies' adoption.

The U.S. Supreme Court held in 2003 that universities cannot establish quotas for members of certain racial groups, but may consider race or ethnicity as a "plus" factor along with others.

The Michigan law was approved by voters in 2002 and upheld by a separate three-judge panel of the 6th Circuit in 2006, according to Schuette.

(Editing by Jerry Norton)

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