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SCOTUS upholds Michigan’s affirmative-action ban for college admissions

Posted Apr 22, 2014 10:40 AM CDT
By Stephanie Francis Ward

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The Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action had
fought to bring race-based admissions back
before SCOTUS. Photo courtesy of By Any
Means Necessary (BAMN).

Updated: Michigan’s ban on affirmative action in public colleges was upheld today by the U.S. Supreme Court, with a 6-2 ruling.

The voter initiative amended the state constitution to ban racial preference in public universities, the New York Times reports.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, and noted that the case was not about the constitutionality of race-based admissions policies in higher education, nor how the debate regarding race preferences should be resolved.

“It is about who may resolve it,” the ruling (PDF) states. “There is no authority in the Constitution of the United States or in this Court’s precedents for the Judiciary to set aside Michigan laws that commit this policy determination to the voters.”

In a 2013 ruling (PDF), the Supreme Court held that race-conscious admissions policies are constitutional in states that want to use them.

The law in Tuesday’s opinion, Proposal 2, was approved by 53 percent of Michigan voters in 2006. It amended the state Constitution to prohibit discrimination and preferential treatment in public education, government contracting and public employment. Groups in favor of affirmative action sued to block the law’s portion about colleges.

Proposal 2 was introduced in response to Grutter v. Bollinger (PDF), the New York Times reports. Grutter was a 2003 Supreme Court opinion which upheld using race as one factor in law school admissions, for educational diversity.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Stephen G. Breyer each wrote a concurrence in Schuette. Justices Antonin Scalia wrote another concurrence, which Justice Clarence Thomas joined.

Justice Elena Kagan was recused, the New York Times reports, probably because she worked on the case during her time as Solicitor General.

Justices Sonia Sotomayor wrote a dissent, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It details the history of the country’s civil rights struggles, as well as Proposal 2.

“Under our constitution, a majority rule is not without limit,” Sotomayor wrote. “Our system of government is predicated on an equilibrium between the notion that a majority of citizens may determine government policy through legislation enacted by their elected representatives, and the overriding principle that there are nonetheless some things the Constitution forbids even a majority of citizens to do.”

The ruling overturns a 2012 opinion (PDF) from the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the New York Times writes. The appellate court voted 8 to 7 that Proposal 2 violated the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause, because it restructured the state’s political process.

Related articles:

ABAJournal.com: "Will Michigan affirmative-action ban survive? SCOTUS may vote to uphold it"

ABAJournal.com: "Chemerinsky: Campaign finance, affirmative action will top Supreme Court’s new term"

ABA Journal: "Campaign funding and affirmative action come back before the Supreme Court"

ABAJournal.com: "In ‘surprise development,’ SCOTUS agrees to consider a voter ban on affirmative action"

Updated on April 23 to correct the name of the Michigan voters initiative, which is Proposal 2.

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