U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Ban on Affirmative Action at Michigan Universities

Written by MCJStaff   // April 25, 2014   // 0 Comments

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Court is seen as undoing gains made by blacks in 1960s and 1970s

by Frederick H. Lowe  -thenorthstarnews.com

A ban on affirmative action at Michigan universities already had resulted in a significant drop in African-American students attending the state’s schools even before Tuesday’s decision by the United States Supreme Court upholding the prohibition.

The Court’s decision follows a ruling that struck down Section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The ruling gutted the legislation that established a formula for determining where stringent remedies were needed to remedy voter discrimination.

The 5-4 decision eliminated preclearance to any changes in voting laws in certain states and counties under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act by the U.S. Justice Department or the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Since the ruling, Republican state legislatures have enacted laws, making it more difficult for African Americans to vote under the guise the laws will prevent voter fraud.

Sen. Rand Paul (D., Ky.) said, however, that Republicans have overemphasized the voter fraud issue since actual instances  are negligible. Sen. Paul made his comments on Tuesday at the University of Chicago’s  Institute of Politics hosted by David Axelrod, President Barack Obama’s former adviser.

George Washington, a Detroit lawyer, who challenged Proposal 2, which banned affirmative action at Michigan universities and colleges, said Tuesday’s decision, coupled with the voting rights’ ruling makes it clear that the U.S. Supreme Court is undoing the rights gained by blacks in 1960s and 1970s. Washington made his comments to news services.

Giving rights and later taking them away is not without historical precedent. For example, France, a slave-trading country, abolished slavery 1794, but reinstated it in 1812.

Jon Greenbaum, chief counsel for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, called the court’s decision banning affirmative action in public employment, public contracting and public education a regressive step for racial inclusion. Republican President Richard M. Nixon was a strong backer of affirmative action.

“The court has disregarded long-standing precedent which prevents the majority from passing legislation that reconfigures the political process in ways that burden a racial minority,” Greenbaum said.

The court ruled 6-2 on Tuesday in a case titled Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action that Michigan voters can amend the state constitution to prohibit public colleges and universities from considering race in admission decision.

By doing so, the court reversed a 2011 Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals decision which held that Proposal 2 violates the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause by restructuring the political process in a way that created an extraordinary burden on minorities, Greenbaum said.

Michigan voters in 2006 passed Proposal 2 by a margin of 58 percent to 42 percent, making it an amendment to Michigan’s constitution.

The amendment prohibited the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Wayne State University and any other public college, university, community college or school district from granting preferential treatment to any individual on the basis of their race.

Chief Justice John Roberts, and Associate Justices Anthony Kennedy, Samuel Alito, Stephen Breyer and Clarence Thomas supported the ban, but Associate Justices Sandra Sotomayer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg voted against the ban. Associate Justice Elena Kagan recused herself from the case.

Organizations challenge the legislation
The ACLU, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and others challenged Proposal 2 on behalf of students, faculty and prospective applicants to the University of Michigan. The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Oct. 15, 2013.

They argued that Michigan’s Proposal 2 unfairly and unconstitutionally rigs admissions against minority students and that it already has had a negative effect at Michigan universities.

African-American student enrollment fell 33 percent between 2006 —  the year before Proposal 2 could have affected admissions — and 2012, even as the university’s overall enrollment grew 10 percent.

And from 2004 to 2010, African Americans earned 10.3 percent of the medical degrees at Michigan, but in 2012, this dropped to 4.8 percent, a decline of more than 50 percent, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

Associate Justice Kennedy wrote that “Michigan voters exercised their privilege to enact laws as a basic exercise of their democratic power.
Sotomayer’s comments
But Associate Justice Sotomayer had a different take.

“That a majority of the Michigan electorate changed the basic rules of the political process in that state in a manner that uniquely disadvantaged racial minorities. Prior to the enactment of the constitutional initiative at issue here, all of the admissions policies of Michigan’s public colleges and universities—including race-sensitive admissions policies were in the hands of each institution’s governing board, ” Sotomayer wrote. “After over a century of being shut out of Michigan’s institutions of higher education, racial minorities in Michigan has succeeded in persuading the elected board representatives to adopt admissions policies that took into account the benefits of racial diversity.”

Brenda Shum, director of the Lawyers’ Committee on Educational Opportunities Project, said, however, the decision does not disturb the fundamental principle that the consideration of race in admissions may be permissible.

Currently, seven other states have passed similar bans on race-conscious admissions policies in higher education. They are: California, Florida, Washington, Arizona, Nebraska, Oklahoma and New Hampshire. In 2011, the percentages of black freshman at University of California Berkeley, UCLA and the University of Michigan were among the lowest of the nation’s universities, said a spokesperson for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.


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ban on affirmative action at Michigan universities

Section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act

undoing the rights gained by blacks in 1960s and 1970s

United States Supreme Court


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