The legality of affirmative action in American universities may well be decided once and for all in a major Supreme Court case that will be heard next week.
The case is Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, and it ostensibly concerns a state ballot proposal called the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative — approved by state voters in 2006 — that prohibited public entities from making admissions and hiring decisions based on race. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the ban on racial preferences last year, and Michigan Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette appealed to the Supreme Court.
Whatever the Court’s decision, it could have major ramifications for the use of affirmative nation-wide, given that the Court narrowly ruled in favor of racial preferences a decade ago, but left open the possibility of ending the practice in the future.
In an exclusive interview with The Daily Caller, Schuette — who will defend MCRI during oral arguments before the Court — said that it was long past time for public entities to abandon the consideration of racial factors.
“Our constitution requires equal treatment in admission, which is an expression by 58 percent of Michigan voters in 2006 that says it is fundamentally wrong to treat people differently based on race of the color of their skin,” said Schuette, referring to MCRI’s margin of victory in 2006. “That’s wrong and we can’t have that.”
Whether the Supreme Court will agree is hard to say, although there’s reason for affirmative action opponents to be optimistic. In a pair of rulings in 2003, the Court held 6-3 that the University of Michigan could not award points to undergraduate admissions applicants simply because they were minorities, but also held 5-4 that U-M’s law school was justified in considering race as one of many factors for admission.
The 5-4 decision was authored by Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who wrote that race-based admissions would cease to be constitutional if the practice were no longer necessary.
Since 2003, the Court has added at least one justice with seemingly stronger anti-affirmative action views than O’Connor, who retired from the bench.
“I think our case is captured very well by Chief Justice John Roberts, who once said the best way to stop racial discrimination is to stop discriminating on the basis of race,” said Schuette. “And that’s what we’ve done in Michigan.”
Though the case may have national implications, Schuette’s focus is in making sure the will of Michigan voters is defended.
“I’m just very Michigan centric, though it is an important case nationally,” he said.
How far the decision will reach is anyone’s guess. The Court could issue a ruling that applies only to Michigan’s ballot initiative, and does not adjudicate the legality of affirmative action itself.
Whatever the outcome, Schuette wants Michigan universities to continue seeking diverse student bodies — without resorting to affirmative action.
“This case really drives a discussion about the need for diversity, which I value and I support, and it’s how you accomplish this goal that there may be differences,” he said. “I believe diversity is so very important, but… in Michigan we are doing it by constitutional means, not by any means necessary.”
For Schuette, constitutional means include making better recruitment efforts into minority communities.
“There are ways to assist and reach out,” he said.
Schuette would like to see more universities allocate significant grant money toward the recruitment of worthy minority candidates. (RELATED: UMich gets $200 million donation to buy nicer stuff, debt-weary students shrug)
“We spend a lot of time on football, do we have the same intensity recruiting academic brilliance?” he asked.
Oral arguments in the case begin October 15.