Shanta Driver

  • National chair of the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration & Immigrant Rights
  • Founder and national chair of By Any Means Necessary
  • Supports affirmative action as a necessary safeguard against discrimination targeting nonwhites in the workplace and academia

Shanta Driver earned a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Social Relations from Harvard University in 1975, and a J.D. from Wayne State University Law School in 2002. She subsequently served as an attorney at Scheff, Washington & Driver, a Detroit-based civil-rights and labor law firm, and has been affiliated with the Revolutionary Workers League (RWL), a Marxist organization, since at least 1983. Driver has also served variously as: (a) the National Chair for the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration & Immigrant Rights; (b) co-founder and National Chair of By Any Means Necessary (BAMN); and (c) National Director of BAMN’s nonprofit affiliate, the United for Equality and Affirmative Action Legal Defense Fund.

Reasoning from the premise that America is a profoundly racist nation, Driver has long been a passionate supporter of affirmative action as a necessary safeguard against discrimination allegedly targeting nonwhites in the workplace and academia. In September 1995, she participated in a San Francisco demonstration protesting a recent University of California Board of Regents decision to roll back race preferences in the UC system.

In a January 2003 opinion piece, Driver wrote: “By urging the U.S. Supreme Court to outlaw affirmative action, the [George W.] Bush administration is playing a front line role in the assault on integration in education. Without active ‘race-conscious’ measures, … selective higher education across the country will be resegregated.”

As a BAMN official in 2003, Driver was instrumental in organizing a 50,000-person “March on Washington to Defend Affirmative Action,” which took place on April 1 of that year.

In addition, Driver was the legal architect of a student-intervenor defense in Grutter v. Bollinger, the University of Michigan Law School affirmative-action case where the Supreme Court ruled, in June 2003, that while inflexible, race-based quotas were impermissible, the “use of race in admissions decisions to further a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body” was a legitimate and constitutional practice.

In subsequent years, Driver headed up the legal team challenging the constitutionality of state bans on affirmative action in Michigan (BAMN v. Granholm, 2006) and California (Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action et al v. Schwarzenegger et al, 2010).

In February 2010, Driver was the lead counsel for BAMN when the organization brought forth a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Proposition 209, a ballot measure that had been approved by California voters in 1996 to bar the use of racial or gender preferences in public contracting, education and employment. Though a federal appeals court and the California Supreme Court had both rejected previous attempts to overturn Prop 209, Driver said that a renewed federal challenge to the law was now in order for two reasons: (a) the U.S. Supreme Court had issued two separate rulings upholding some school desegregation programs, and (b) the gap between Latino and black high-school graduation rates on the one hand, and UC enrollment on the other, had grown wider since the enactment of Prop 209. “Thirteen years of a ban on affirmative action in the state of California has left, in particular UCLA and Berkeley, with just pitiably low numbers of black and Latino students,” Driver said. “You can’t have a white majority create a situation in which the only people who are barred from going to their regents and saying, ‘Adjust the admissions system so more of our sons and daughters can get in’ are black, Latino and Native American.”

Also under Driver’s leadership, BAMN helped organize the massive wave of immigrant-rights rallies that swept across the United States in the spring of 2006.

In 2008, Driver told an interviewer on National Public Radio that it was the “aim and intent” of Ward Connerly, the former University of California Regent who had led the fight to eliminate public-sector racial preferences in several states, to “resegregate higher education” by “driv[ing] black and Latino students … off of campuses across this country.”

On behalf of BAMN, Driver argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in a 2013 case called Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action. The Court ultimately decided, in 2014, that an amendment to a state’s constitution to prohibit race-and sex-based preferential treatment in public university admission decisions did not violate the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of “equal protection of the laws” for all people. During oral arguments, however, Driver stated that the 14th Amendment did not apply to white people. She asked the Court to “bring the 14th Amendment back to its original purpose and meaning, which is to protect minority rights against a white majority.” “It’s a measure,” she elaborated, “in which the question of discrimination is determined not just by — by power, by who has privilege in this society, and those minorities that are oppressed, be they religious or racial, need protection from a more privileged majority.” Justice Antonin Scalia, in turn, asked Driver: “Do you have any case of ours that propounds that view of the 14th Amendment, that it protects only minorities? Any case?” Driver replied, “No case of yours.”

Following the announcement of the Supreme Court ruling in Schuette, Driver defended affirmative action as a policy that was “necessary to counter racism in K-12 education” and to combat the “presumption of black or Latino inferiority.” Moreover, she referred to the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) — a standardized exam widely used by colleges and universities to determine which students they will admit — as a “white preference test” that should be banned because of its alleged biases against minorities.

Driver has served as the personal attorney for radical Berkeley United School District teacher and Antifa supporter Yvette Felarca. She defended Felarca, for instance, against felony-assault and misdemeanor-rioting charges which she incurred in 2016.

In 2019, Driver denounced the FBI for launching an investigation into BAMN following the group’s violent counter-protest against “Neo-Nazis” in Sacramento in June 2016. The FBI’s interest in BAMN,” said Driver, “is part of a long-standing policy…. Starting with their campaign to persecute and slander Dr. Martin Luther King, they have a racist history of targeting peaceful civil rights and anti-racist organizations, while doing nothing to prosecute the racists and fascists who attacked Dr. King and the movement he built.”

In April 2020 – just weeks after the COVID-19 pandemic had begun gaining its initial momentum in the United States — Driver called upon Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer to grant clemency to ten particular prison inmates in her state who, by Driver’s telling, suffered from medical co-morbidities that could have rendered them especially vulnerable to contracting and dying from the virus while incarcerated. Those ten inmates, said Driver, represented “thousands more like them, who must be released from custody.”

One particular prisoner whose release Driver sought was a 45-year-old black man named Randy Evil, an armed-robbery convict who had a terminal illness called diffuse cutaneous systemic sclerosis. In April 2020, Driver filed a federal lawsuit seeking Evil’s release on grounds that if he were to contract the coronavirus, it could kill him. “He is very ill and there is no reason for him to be in jail,” said Driver. “He is not a flight risk. He just wants to go home and be with his family in the last days of his life.”

Since the mid-1990s, Driver has been a guest speaker—often on the subject of affirmative action—at hundreds of colleges and universities nationwide. She also has addressed scores of civil-rights, professional, religious, political, and governmental organizations, including the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, the National Alliance of Black School Educators, the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, the NAACPNational Convention, the Tavis Smiley Foundation Youth2Leaders Conference, the National Bar Association, the American Sociological Association, Americans for Democratic Action, the Progressive National Baptist Convention, the National Organization for Women, and the Society of American Law Teachers.

Among the numerous awards Driver has received during her career as an activist are the American Association for Affirmative Action Rosa Parks Award, the Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth Humanitarian Award, the National Society of Black Engineers “Fulfilling the Vision of Tomorrow” Award, and the National Lawyers Guild-Detroit Unsung Hero Award.