This week, the United States Supreme Court voted to uphold Michigan’s ban on the use of a student’s race as a factor in admission to college.
The ruling was 6-2 with Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissenting. Sotomayor has written that affirmative action played a part in her own education. Justice Elena Kagan recused herself, having worked on this issue during her tenure at the Justice Department.
The majority of the justices agreed that the state did not violate the Constitution when it banned affirmative action, reported Pete Williams of NBC News.
In 2006, 58 percent of Michigan voters approved Proposal 2, amending their state constitution to ban affirmative action. The state justified the vote as an effort to put an end to racial preferences.
But defenders of affirmative action said the ban amounted to an act of discrimination, because it blocked only minority students from seeking preferences in school admissions.
Defenders of affirmative action have said the disparity arises when, for example, a school decides that admitting children of alumni is a preference. If a student is not chosen and is a child of an alumnus, the student can take his case to the school.
However, if a student is asking for preference based on his race, this issue would have to be voted on by state citizens as an amendment to the state constitution. Justice Anthony Kennedy said that neither the Constitution nor the Supreme Court can take away the privilege of state voters to decide on certain divisive issues. The majority justices emphasized that the ruling did not address the merits of affirmative action, but did speak to the “process by which a state can ban it”.
Bill Mears, a CNN Supreme Court expert, observes that this decision is part of an on-going legal and political battle over whether or not state schools of higher learning can use race or gender when choosing which students will be admitted to their colleges. In the past few years, says Mears, the debate over affirmative action has been focused on whether and when it should be phased out completely.
In 2006, Proposal 2 was approved by Michigan voters. It amended the state constitution to ban affirmative action.
“Students deserve a robust education where a variety of viewpoints are shared and debated,” said Professor Kevin Gaines of the University of Michigan, one of the original plaintiffs.” Proposal 2 has meant less diversity in our universities, which has had a chilling effect on the quality of discourse in the classroom. Unfortunately, that will continue, at least for the time being, in Michigan.”
Predictably, supporters of Proposal 2 agree with the high court’s ruling. The decision allows states to have the responsibility of whether affirmative action admissions continue or not.
David G. Savage, reporting for The Los Angeles Times, writes that in Justice Sotomayor’s dissent, she stated that the Supreme Court has given the majority the right to “erect selective barriers against racial minorities”.
As an example, Justice Sotomayor cited the decline in the percentage of Latino and black students admitted to UCLA and UC-Berkeley after California’s Proposition 209 was passed.