2014 April 22

Supreme Court Upholds Michigan Constitutional Ban on Affirmative Action


In Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, decided on this day, the Supreme Court held that a state constitutional amendment banning affirmative action did not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In a concurring opinion, Chief Justice Roberts wrote that race-based affirmative action programs may do more harm than good. Reflecting the deep division among the Justices on the contentious issue of affirmative action, there were five separate opinions in the case. Only two Justices, however, dissented from the majority opinion, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor.

The case came 36 years after the Supreme Court’s first major decision on affirmative action, Bakke v. Regents of the State of California, on June 28, 1978. In that case, the Court ruled that Bakke had been discriminated against under the affirmative action plan used by University of California at Davis Medical School, but that the State of California had a compelling interest to ensure a diverse student body through affirmative action. On June 23, 2003, the Court decided two affirmative action cases involving the University of Michigan. In Gratz v. Bollinger, the Court declared unconstitutional a plan that automatically awarded 50 points to applicants who were African-American, Hispanic, or Native American. In Grutter v. Bollinger, it upheld a “narrowly tailored” affirmative plan used by the Law School because the State of Michigan has a “compelling interest” in the benefits derived from a diverse student body.

The section of the Michigan Constitution, approved by the voters as the Civil Rights Initiative, reads (in part) as follows:

“1. The University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Wayne State University, and any other public college or university, community college, or school district shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.”

Read: Barbara Perry, The Michigan Affirmative Action Cases (2007)

And more: Howard Ball, The Bakke Case: Race, Education, and Affirmative Action (2000)

Learn more about affirmative action from the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights: http://www.civilrights.org/resources/civilrights101/affirmaction.html

Learn more at a timeline on affirmative action history: http://www.infoplease.com/spot/affirmativetimeline1.html

Learn more from the ACLU about affirmative action: https://www.aclu.org/racial-justice/affirmative-action

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