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U.S. High Court Upholds Michigan Affirmative Action Ban
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The U.S. Supreme Court up-held a voter-approved ban on racial preference in admissions at Michigan’s state-run universities. The decision will provide a path for other state run universities hoping to sanction similar bars. The justices, voting 6-2, said racial preferences were a legitimate subject to be put before the state’s voters. A federal appeals court had said Michigan unconstitutionally stripped racial minorities of their rights.

“Democracy does not presume that some subjects are either too divisive or too profound for public debate,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the court’s lead opinion.


The University of Michigan won a Supreme Court decision a decade ago that let institutions across the country continue to use race as an admissions factor. Voter-approved initiative means that ruling is reversed for the university that secured it.

According to the university’s figures, black enrollment is down about 30 percent at the undergraduate and law schools since the measure took effect. Michigan and nine other states bar race-conscious admissions at public institutions, by ballot initiative or other government action. Supporters of affirmative action said the ruling today, while not focused on the merits of the practice, is a setback for racial equality.

Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsberg disagreed with the ruling. Sotomayor read a summary of her disapproval from the bench. She wrote that the court was “permitting the majority to use its numerical advantage to change the rules mid-contest and forever stack the deck against minorities in Michigan.”

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Chief Justice John Roberts has tried to veer the court toward a color-blind approach to the Constitution. Sotomayor wrote that Robert’s approach was ” out of touch with reality.”

Roberts responded that “it is not ‘out of touch with reality’ to conclude that racial preferences may “do more harm than good” by sowing doubt among beneficiaries about their own qualifications.

Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, which represents public school teachers and other employees, countered that the decision will make it harder to advocate for equal educational opportunity.

“Having spent 23 years in the classroom, I saw first-hand the important role diversity played in the classroom and how learning from people with different backgrounds and perspectives can benefit all students, our workforce and our country as a whole, Van Roekel said in a statement.

Justice Kennedy wrote, “Those cases were ones in which the political restriction in question was designed to be used, or was likely to be used, to encourage infliction of injury by reason of race, that wasn’t the case with  the Michigan initiative.”

Chief counsel for the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Jon Greenbaum, said Kennedy “is generally skeptical toward affirmative action but he hasn’t gone as far as probably some of the other justices would like.”

Greenbaum said, that the ruling is a “step backward for racial inclusion,” and although limited in it’s initial effect, may encourage other states to attempt similar ballot initiatives, for now, it only applies in those states that have passed these types of referendums.

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