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Court Rules Ban on Affirmative Action in Michigan as Unconstitutional

On Thursday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit ruled as unconstitutional, a law in Michigan that banned the use of affirmative action in public college admissions. A divided U.S. Court of Appeals held that the 2006 amendment to the Michigan Constitution in question violated the U.S. constitutional guarantee of equal protections. The decision of the 6th Circuit comes at a time when the U.S. Supreme Court is still considering whether affirmative action is good policy in admissions to public educational institutes.

In its decision, the 6th Circuit made clear that it was not considering whether race-conscious admissions had value or were constitutional. The court said, it only considered the issue whether the particular Michigan law barring university officials considering race as a factor for admissions was constitutional or not. And the court decided there can be no ban.

The ban concerned, also known as Proposition 2, had been passed by Michigan voters in 2006, prohibiting public educational institutions from providing preferential treatment to candidates based on race. In the same year, a coalition of people who opposed the ban brought a lawsuit saying that the amendment harmed racial minorities by violating the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection.

In 2008, a district court upheld the law, and those supporting affirmative action appealed. The decision of the lower court was reversed in 2011 by a three-judge panel of the 6th Circuit, but the state wanted a rehearing of a full appeals court. The decision of the rehearing was given on Thursday.

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The majority of the court said that the Equal Protection Clause prevents laws being passed to change the political process and impose extra burdens on minorities. The court said that the burden on minorities were obviously increased in a situation where a minority student would have to amend the state’s constitution for affirmative action, but the child of an alumni can get a school to adopt a policy favoring legacy applicants only by lobbying the administration of the institution.

The court observed, “The existence of such a comparative structural burden undermines the Equal Protection Clause’s guarantee that all citizens ought to have equal access to the tools of political change.”

However, at least seven judges dissented from the majority opinion with Judge Richard Griffin outright calling the majority decision as the “antithesis” of the Equal Protection Clause. Griffin remarked, “The post-Civil War amendment that guarantees equal protection to persons of all races has now been construed as barring a state from prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race.”

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