SCOTUS upholds Michigan’s ban on racial preference in college admissions

April 30th, 2014


A 6-2 ruling by the Supreme Court upheld Michigan’s ability to enact a law that would prohibit “all sex and race-based preferences in public education, public employment and public contracting.”


The ruling overturned a federal court of appeals decision saying the law would unconstitutionally strip minorities of their rights and violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.


The decision was handed down on Tuesday, April 22.  Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority decision.


Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito voted with the majority.


Justice Sonya Sotomayor wrote the minority opinion with Justice Ruth Ginsburg. Justice Elena Kagan did not participate in the decision.


In the majority opinion, Justice Kennedy wrote that the court does not have the ability to disempower voters from supporting such a law.


It also held that the ability to define and protect interests based on race would allow the government to classify people by race; therefore, perpetuating racism these policies were intended to avoid.


Affirmative Action Pew Poll WORLDThis is the second ruling by the court in a year regarding tighter scrutiny of race-conscious admissions and part of a wider trend among colleges to change their admissions process, which has been encouraged by President Barack Obama among others.


Ohio is one of three states considering referendums on affirmative action in admissions. Missouri and Utah are also considering similar referrendums opposing affirmative action. Universities in these states must find alternative methods to promote diversity, without explicitly considering race, such as income.


Eight other states, including California, Arizona and Florida, have already enacted laws preventing the use of affirmative action in college admissions.  States without such a ban must justify their use of race as an admissions factor.


Some experts believe relying on geography and family income is a more effective method for creating diversity on college campuses.


However, some universities with bans on affirmative action have seen a decrease in diversity.


At the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, African-American enrollment dropped by 33 percent from 2006 until 2012 when the affirmative action ban took effect.


Richard Kahlenberg of the Century Foundation, a Washington public policy research organization, found that seven of 10 universities that used socioeconomic inequality rather than race maintained or increased the proportion of minority students.


After a court struck down affirmative action in Texas in 1996, the state began to give students graduating in the top 10 percent of their high school class a guaranteed spot at the state university of their choice.  California adopted a similar policy in 1999.


This has benefited minority students who have struggled to get into college because of their standardized test scores.


Other universities have allowed more transfers from community colleges, which typically have more minority and low-income students.


Editor’s Note: Information from the Washington Post, Bloomberg, Oyez and the Chicago Tribune was used in this report.