Supreme Court Rules In Favor Of Michigan’s Affirmative Action Ban

April 22, 2014  |  

President Obama speaking at the University of Michigan a few weeks back. via @UofMichigan Instagram

A Supreme Court ruling today upheld the state of Michigan’s ban on the use of affirmative action in the college admissions process. The 6-2 ruling finds that the state didn’t violate the Constitution when the Michigan’s voters approved Proposal Two, which amended the state constitution. The High Court also said the lower court was wrong for finding the change was discriminatory.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Sonia Sotomayor were the two dissenting voices. Justice Elena Kagan sat this case out because she previously worked on the issue.

“[D]efenders of affirmative action said the ban amounted to an act of discrimination, because it blocked only minority students from seeking preferences in school admissions,” NBC News reports. “They argued that students seeking, for example, a preference for admitting children of alumni could take their case to a school directly, while those seeking a racial preference would have to first persuade voters to amend the state constitution.”

Michigan says that the admissions process in that state won’t be affected by this ruling. The voters cast a ballot on the question of equal treatment, irrespective of race.

“Our state constitution requires equal treatment in college admissions, because it is fundamentally wrong to treat people differently based on the color of their skin,” Michigan’s Attorney General Bill Schuette (R) said.

“We cannot wish away racial inequality,” said Justice Sotomayor in her comments, further saying that the state “changed the basic rules of the political process in that State in a manner that uniquely disadvantaged racial minorities.” She has written about the positive impact of affirmative action on her life, NBC says. Her dissent was 58 pages long. The Wall Street Journal says the ruling leaves “intact” rules that prohibit unfair treatment against minorities in the “political process.”

(“Today’s Supreme Court decision is a step backward for racial inclusion by allowing voters to overrule the decision of Michigan university officials to consider race in admissions to achieve diversity,” said Jon Greenbaum, chief counsel for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.)

The Supreme Court judges were clear that this ruling says nothing about outlawing affirmative action, only that Michigan did nothing wrong in its process to ban it.

There are other states that have banned affirmative action as well: Arizona, California, Florida, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Washington. The Supreme Court “ruling means racial preferences won’t soon return to the University of Michigan–or any other university in states that have chosen to end the practice–but suggests the justices are far from consensus on when affirmative action may be allowed, an issue sure to return to the court in the coming years,” writes USA Today.

“In Michigan and California particularly, the bans have reduced black and Hispanic enrollments at elite universities and at law, medical and professional schools. The percentages of African Americans among entering freshmen at the University of California-Berkeley, UCLA and the University of Michigan were the lowest among the nation’s top universities in 2011,” writes USATMichigan, in its arguments before the court, questioned those stats, saying that because applicants can tick off a few boxes, the numbers are skewed.

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