Supreme Court upholds Mich. affirmative action ban
The Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld Michigan’s voter-approved ban on the use of race-based preferences in the college admissions process.
In a 6-2 decision, the justices said the court had no authority to set aside state laws that let the voters decide if they want race to be among criteria that colleges use. Their opinion reverses a circuit court that struck down Michigan’s ban, but made clear that the justices were not about to wade into larger questions about opportunities and race.
“This case is not about how the debate about racial preferences should be resolved. It is about who may resolve it,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy for the majority. “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.”
Project 21, a group for black conservatives, praised the ruling and said the decision will help to eliminate “arbitrary demographic quotas.”
“Today, the Supreme Court moved us closer to the colorblind principle that Martin Luther King advocated and that is embedded in the 14th Amendment,” Project 21 Co-Chairman Horace Cooper said. “I’m pleased that the principle of treating all Americans the same under the law can go forward in Michigan.”
The opinion is the court’s latest foray into affirmative action, in which employers, universities or other institutions provide special opportunities to historically disadvantaged groups. Some say it is a necessary tool to balance out societal inequalities, while others say it is flatly discriminatory toward those who do not enjoy special consideration.
Last year the justices sent back to the lower courts a challenge to the University of Texas’ use of race-based criteria, saying affirmative action must be subject to “strict scrutiny.”
That case involved Abigail Fisher, a white woman from Texas who was rejected by the university and then sued, arguing minorities with weaker applications had been selected.
A decade before that decision, the Supreme Court considered the University of Michigan’s use of race-based preferences in its undergraduate and law schools, invalidating some aspects but upholding a more limited use of the criteria. In 2006, Michigan voters approved Proposal 2, which banned the use of race as a factor in selecting applicants for state universities.
That decision led to the case before the court, Schuette v. BAMN, after a pro-equality group challenged the voter-approved prohibition.
The organization, known as By Any Means Necessary, joined high school students in protest last week at the University of Michigan’s student activities center, chanting “they say ‘Jim Crow,’ we say, ‘hell no,’” and highlighting students who were rejected despite submitting what they thought were strong applications, according to The Michigan Daily.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg in dissent, said the decision “eviscerates an important strand of our equal protection jurisprudence.”
“For members of historically marginalized groups, which rely on the federal courts to protect their constitutional rights, the decision can hardly bolster hope for a vision of democracy that preserves for all the right to participate meaningfully and equally in self-government,” she wrote.