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Policy: Law

Supreme Court upholds Michigan's ban on race-based college admissions

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Joel Gehrke,Supreme Court,Michigan,Affirmative Action,Law,Race and Diversity

Six Supreme Court justices voted to uphold Michigan's ballot proposal that amended the state constitution to ban race-based affirmative action in college admissions, reversing a lower court that said the ban burdened minorities.

"[The case] is not about the constitutionality, or the merits, of race-conscious admissions policies in higher education," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the opinion announcing the court's ruling.

"The question here concerns not the permissibility of race-conscious admissions policies under the Constitution but whether, and in what manner, voters in the states may choose to prohibit the consideration of racial preferences in governmental decisions, in particular with respect to school admissions."

The court upheld the constitutional amendment, saying that it refused to rule that "the question addressed by Michigan voters is too sensitive or complex to be within the grasp of the electorate," as Kennedy put it. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito joined in that opinion. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote a concurring opinion that Justice Clarence Thomas joined, while Justice Stephen Breyer -- who often rules with the liberal bloc of the court -- wrote his own concurring opinion. Justice Elena Kagan recused herself from the case.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote the dissent. "[T]he majority of Michigan voters changed the rules in the middle of the game, reconfiguring the existing political process in Michigan in a manner that burdened racial minorities," she wrote in an dissent that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined.

"The one and only policy a Michigan citizen may not seek through this long-established process is a race-sensitive admissions policy that considers race in an individualized manner when it is clear that race-neutral alternatives are not adequate to achieve diversity. For that policy alone, the citizens of Michigan must undertake the daunting task of amending the State Constitution. Our precedents do not permit political restructurings that create one process for racial minorities and a separate, less burdensome process for everyone else."

The constitutional amendment passed on a 58-percent to 42-percent vote in 2006, when Michigan voters also re-elected Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm with 56 percent of the vote.

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