Supreme Court Upholds State Bans on Affirmative Action

Proponents of affirmative action demonstrate outside the Supreme Court during oral arguments in October 2013. (Photo: Susan Walsh, AP)
Proponents of affirmative action demonstrate outside the Supreme Court during oral arguments in October 2013. (Photo: Susan Walsh, AP)

The Supreme Court dealt another blow to affirmative action programs Tuesday, upholding the right of states to ban racial preferences in university admissions.

The 6-2 decision came in a case brought by Michigan, where a voter-approved initiative banning affirmative action had been tied up in court for a decade.

Seven other states – California, Florida, Washington, Arizona, Nebraska, Oklahoma and New Hampshire – have similar bans. Now, others may follow suit.

But the ruling, which was expected after the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the Michigan law, did not jeopardize the wide use of racial preferences in many of the 42 states without bans. Such affirmative action programs were upheld, though subjected to increased scrutiny, in the high court’s June ruling involving the University of Texas.

“This case is not about how the debate (over racial preferences) should be resolved,” Justice Anthony Kennedy said in announcing the ruling. But to stop Michigan voters from making their own decision on affirmative action would be “an unprecedented restriction on a fundamental right held by all in common.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor read a summary of her lengthy, 58-page dissent from the bench, in which Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined. She said the decision creates “a two-tiered system of political change” by requiring only race-based proposals to surmount the state Constitution, while all other proposals can go to school boards.

As a result of the ruling, Sotomayor said, a product of affirmative action policies, minority enrollment will decline at Michigan’s public universities, just as it has in California and elsewhere. “The numbers do not lie,” she said.

The decision was splintered, with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito joining Kennedy’s opinion; Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas concurring in a separate opinion; and Justice Stephen Breyer, more often aligned with the court’s liberal wing, concurring in yet another opinion.

Justice Elena Kagan recused herself from the case, presumably because of a conflict of interest from her time as U.S. solicitor general.

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SOURCE: Richard Wolf

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