SCOTUS upholds voter-passed law prohibiting affirmative action in university admissions

April 22, 2014

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Good morning:

The United States Supreme Court issued an opinion today by a vote of 6-2 upholding a voter-passed constitutional provision in Michigan that prohibits colleges and universities from using affirmative action policies in deciding whether to admit applicants to enroll in their academic degree programs.

The decision reverses an en banc decision by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. An en banc decision is a decision by the entire circuit court, as opposed to a three-judge panel.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion. He held that the sixth circuit did not have the authority to overrule Michigan voters. He said,

This case is not about how the debate about racial preferences should be resolved. It is about who may resolve it.

Justices Roberts and Alito joined his opinion.

Justice Scalia, joined by Justice Thomas, concurred in the result, but added that parties who claim that a law denies equal protection must show that the law has a discriminatory purpose in order to prevail. He concluded that the constitutional provision was legitimate since it did not have discriminatory purpose.

I rarely agree with Justice Scalia and this is yet another decision with which I disagree. Affirmative action laws were enacted to create opportunities for minorities to acquire the necessary education, skills and experience to overcome discrimination and compete for employment on equal footing with others.

I do not see how he can say with a straight face that the constitutional provision passed by voters prohibiting affirmative action in admissions to state colleges and universities has no discriminatory purpose.

Affirmative action programs were enacted to give meaning to the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. Racism is real and only a racist or racist enabler would deny it. Racist voters, who would deny minorities the opportunities for improvement accorded by affirmative action laws because of the color of their skin, establish the discriminatory purpose.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She read her decision aloud in court this morning noting that the majority decision is a blow to “historically marginalized groups, which rely on the federal courts to protect their constitutional rights.” She warned that, “Without checks, democratically approved legislation can oppress minority groups.”

Justice Stephen Breyer, who usually votes with justices Sotomayor, Ginsberg, and Kagan, deserted them this time. He did not see a problem with allowing voters to decide whether to adopt race-based admissions policies.

Justice Kagan recused herself from participating in this case.

The name of the case is Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, U.S. Supreme Court, 12-682.

Read the 6th circuit’s en banc decision that struck down the voter passed constitutional provision that the SCOTUS shamelessly upheld today.

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Fred


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