In a ruling announced on April 22, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a voter approved ban on the use of racial preferences in university admissions in Michigan. Some observers maintain that the decision may encourage other states to adopt similar bans. The 6-2 ruling on Schuette, Attorney General of Michigan v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigration Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) et al.concluded that judges may not overturn a decision by Michigan voters to disallow consideration of race when deciding upon admission to the universities in the state, including the prestigious University of Michigan. Currently, the states of California, Florida and the state of Washington have similar prohibitions. The Supreme Court decision reverses the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals' 2013 finding that Proposal 2 of 2006 was unconstitutional.
Writing for the court majority was Justice Anthony M. Kennedy. “This case is not about how the debate about racial preferences should be resolved. It is about who may resolve it.” He continued, “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.” He was joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., and Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Stephen Breyer.
Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented, while Justice Elena Kagan did not take participate in the decision. Sotomayor was acerbic in her dissent, writing “Today’s decision eviscerates an important strand of our equal protection jurisprudence.” In a 58-page opinion, Sotomayor wrote “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.”
The Supreme Court decisions settles a matter that goes back to 2006, when Michigan voters approved by a 58 percent margin an amendment to the state constitution to ban racial preferences in university admissions. An appeals court later ruled that the ban had restructured politics by unfairly targetting minorities. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, who had taken the appeal to the high court, hailed the overturning of the appeals court ruling. “The U.S. Supreme Court made the right call today,” Schuette said. “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. A majority of Michigan voters embraced the ideal of equal treatment in 2006, and today their decision was affirmed.”
The amendment was approved by voters after the Supreme Court, in another Michigan case, in 2003 allowed the limited use of race as part of an “individualized, holistic review of each applicant’s file.” In Grutter v. Bollinger, the Supreme Court upheld the use of race as one factor among many in admissions to ensure educational diversity at public institutions. The case came about because of affirmative action measures taken by the University of Michigan Law School to ensure class diversity. Writing for the majority in 2003 was Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, a Republican nominee to the bench, who wrote that the University of Michigan had a compelling interest in to ensure class diversity by favoring certain "underrepresented minority groups."
According to a statement released by the University of Michigan, the prestigious institution will not make any changes to its admission policies due to the most recent Supreme Court decision, “because U-M policies already are consistent with the state's ban on the consideration of race in college admissions.” University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman, who is due to be replaced this year, was joined by Provost Martha E. Pollack said in a statement, "Our students and campus community have been working through very challenging issues this academic year in an important dialogue about race and diversity on campus. Our collective aspiration for a more and truly diverse campus will not waver.”
"Despite this decision from the Supreme Court, the University of Michigan remains deeply committed to using every legal tool at our disposal to bring together a diverse student body,” they said.
Other methods of ensuring student diversity on university campuses, such as culling applicants from underrepresented and economically distressed areas, are unaffected by the decision.