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By Other Means: The Continuation of Affirmative Action Policy at the University of Michigan

Studies in Law, Politics, and Society

ISBN: 978-1-83867-059-7, eISBN: 978-1-83867-058-0

Publication date: 5 August 2019


The chapter intervenes in the debate among scholars of legal impact about the extent to which law can change society. Reformers, aims are frustrated when targets of law respond with resistance to court decisions, especially where mechanisms to enforce case law are weak (Hall, 2010; Klarman, 2006; Rosenberg, 1991). Even when law’s targets abide by a law, however, other important studies have demonstrated that organizations can leverage ambiguous language to craft policies in compliance that further their aims (Barnes & Burke, 2006; Edelman, 2016; Lipson, 2001). This chapter examines a case in which a state constitutional provision banning affirmative action was written in relatively unambiguous language and one of its targets announced its intention to comply. Through extensive interviews with University officials, this chapter examines the University of Michigan’s use of financial, technological, and political resources to follow the language of the law while still blunting its impact. These findings suggest that to understand law’s impact on society, we need to reconceive compliance and not only take the clarity of the law and its enforcement mechanisms into account but also attend to the goals, resources, and practices of the groups it targets.




The author would like to thank Jeb Barnes, Douglas Edlin, Adam Sheingate, Steve Teles, Emily Zackin, and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions.


Foley, L.S. (2019), "By Other Means: The Continuation of Affirmative Action Policy at the University of Michigan", Studies in Law, Politics, and Society (Studies in Law, Politics, and Society, Vol. 80), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 3-31.



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