Supreme Court Upholds Michigan Affirmative Action Ban

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Photo courtesy of CBS News.

CBS News – The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled by a 6-2 vote that Michigan voters had a right to ban affirmative action in their state via a ballot initiative.

The case, referred to Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, reviewed a 2006 Michigan ballot initiative that amended the state Constitution to ban the consideration of race or sex in public education, government contracting and public employment.

In 2012, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals said the Michigan initiative — because it came in the form of a constitutional amendment — “reordered the political process” in a way that put special burdens on racial minorities. The court of appeals argued that those in favor of affirmative action were at a disadvantage since they had to lobby university officials for race-conscious policies, while those against affirmative action bypassed that process all together.

“Rather than undoing an act of popularly elected officials by simply repealing the policies they created, Michigan voters repealed the admissions policies that university officials created and took the additional step of permanently removing the officials’ power to reinstate them,” the appeals court wrote. “Had those favoring elimination of all race-conscious admissions policies successfully lobbied the universities’ admissions units, just as racial minorities did to have these policies adopted in the first place, there would be no equal protection concern.”

However, writing for the majority, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy argued that the court of appeals’ logic was “inconsistent with the underlying premises of a responsible, functioning democracy.”

“One of those premises is that a democracy has the capacity–and the duty–to learn from its past mistakes; to discover and confront persisting biases; and by respectful, rationale deliberation to rise above those flaws and injustices,” he wrote. “It is demeaning to the democratic process to presume that the voters are not capable of deciding an issue of this sensitivity on decent and rational grounds.”

Kennedy stressed that the case before the court “is not about the constitutionality, or the merits, of race-conscious admissions policies in higher education… but whether, and in what manner, voters in the States may choose to prohibit the consideration of racial preferences in governmental decisions, in particular with respect to school admissions.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented with the majority. Justice Elena Kagan recused herself from the case.