Mich. Affirmative Action Ban Upheld by U.S. Supreme Court

By Brett Snider, Esq. on April 22, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld Michigan's ban on affirmative action in a 6-2 ruling issued Tuesday.

This decision affirms Michigan's Proposal 2, a constitutional amendment that prohibits discriminatory or preferential practices like affirmative action in public education, public employment, or government contracts, reports The New York Times.

What does this mean for affirmative action in Michigan and nationwide?

States Can Decide on Affirmative Action

The High Court struck another victory for federalism in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, determining that states could decide for themselves whether to allow affirmative action programs.

Writing for the controlling opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy explained that neither the U.S. Constitution nor case law prevent Michigan's voters from setting policy regarding affirmative action. This decision seems consistent with a U.S. Supreme Court decision in June, allowing the University of Texas to potentially keep its race-conscious policies.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor read her dissent from the bench, predicting that historically marginalized groups -- those targeted by affirmative action -- will now face a more burdensome political process as a result of this constitutional amendment.

This decision overturns a ruling by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which had determined that Michigan's Proposal 2 violated constitutional equal protection rights of Michigan residents.

The Ruling's Potential Effects

Proposal 2 was passed in response to the High Court's decision in Grutter v. Bolinger, determining that the University of Michigan Law School could use race as a legitimate factor in admissions decisions. With Proposal 2 now upheld, the law school and its corresponding undergraduate university will not be able to use race as a factor in admitting students.

The University of Michigan has been criticized for its lack of diversity, and University of Michigan Admissions Director Ted Spencer told MLive that "it's impossible to achieve diversity on a regular basis if race cannot be used as one of many factors."

The U.S. Supreme Court dodged the tougher question of whether public school affirmative action plans are constitutionally permissible, instead basing its decision on the authority of Michigan voters to prohibit such a practice if they see fit. Justice Sotomayor compared this practice to amending the Colorado state constitution to prevent gays and lesbians from receiving "special treatment" -- an amendment struck down by the High Court in Romer.

The parallels to gay rights may start to increase post-Schuette, as states begin to create a patchwork of inconsistent laws regarding affirmative action.

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