Constitutional Law

En Banc 6th Circuit Overturns Voter-Mandated Affirmative Action Ban in Michigan


An en banc federal appeals court has struck down a voter-approved ban on affirmative action in Michigan as a violation of the equal protection clause.

The Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the ban on affirmative action in university admissions placed an unfair burden on supporters of racial preferences, whose only option would be to amend the state constitution. The New York Times, the Detroit News, the Detroit Free Press and Education Week have stories on the decision.

Unlike supporters of affirmative action, a student who wants alumni connections considered in admissions has a wide variety of options, including lobbying admissions committees and petitioning university leaders, the court majority said in the 8-7 decision (PDF). The affirmative action ban undermines the right of citizens to “have equal access to the tools of political change,” according to the majority.

Michigan is among eight states that ban universities from considering race in admissions, according to the Times. The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld California’s ban.

The 6th Circuit decision is Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action v. University of Michigan. The ruling comes as the U.S. Supreme Court is considering a university’s use of affirmative action in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. The Fisher case revisits the Supreme Court’s 2003 holding in Grutter v. Bollinger, in which the Supreme Court held 5-4 that universities may use race as a factor in admissions.

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