Foes of affirmative action win big at Supreme Court

Robby Soave Reporter
Font Size:

The Supreme Court has upheld Michigan’s citizen-enacted ban on affirmative action, establishing the right of states to ban racial discrimination in university admissions.

Michigan’s ban, the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, was approved by a majority of voters in 2006. It prevented public institutions from considering race in hiring and admissions decisions. The vote came as a blow to administrators at the University of Michigan, who had won the right to maintain limited affirmative action programs in the Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger Supreme Court decisions a few years previously.

A liberal activist group, the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action By Any Means Necessary (BAMN), filed suit against MCRI, alleging that a constitutional amendment banning racial discrimination actually violated the rights of minorities as guaranteed by the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment. Their argument was, in a sense, that the act of prohibiting racial discrimination was itself racially discriminatory.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with BAMN. (RELATED: Activists to UMich: Admit unqualified students, if they are black)

The Supreme Court, however, overturned the Sixth Circuit’s opinion in a 6-2 decision issued Tuesday morning. The case is Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action.

Writing for the majority, Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy ruled that states were well within their rights to restrict racial considerations in admissions decisions.

In a concurring opinion, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia explained that it would be impossible for a law prohibiting racial discrimination to violate Constitutional guarantees of racial equality.

“Does the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibit what its text clearly requires?” asked Scalia in his opinion. “Needless to say (except that this case obliges us to say it), the question answers itself.” (RELATED: Pro-affirmative action side mocked by conservative AND liberal Supremes)

Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, who usually sides with the Court’s liberal wing, joined Associate Justices Kennedy, Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts in the majority. Associate Justices Sandra Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsberg dissented. Justice Elena Kagan recused herself from the case.

The decision does not impact the status of affirmative action practices at universities around the country. It does, however, protect the right of states to ban those practices. Several states, including California and Arizona, have enacted similar prohibitions on race-based advantages in public hiring and admissions.

National Education Associate President Dennis Van Roekel assailed the decision as an attack on minority rights.

“Today’s decision turns back our nation’s commitment to racial equality and equal treatment under the law by sanctioning separate and unequal political processes that put undue burdens on students,” he told The Daily Caller in a statement. “The Supreme Court has made it harder to advocate and, ultimately, achieve equal educational opportunity.”

Anti-affirmative action activist Jennifer Gratz, whose cases have now won at the Supreme Court twice in 11 years, applauded the ruling.

Much progress has been made in challenging discriminatory policies based on race preferences and moving toward colorblind government,” she said in a statement. “States are moving in the right direction when they do away with policies that treat people differently based on race, gender, ethnicity or skin color.”

Follow Robby on Twitter