Michigan case could be the next affirmative action test for US Supreme Court

Jun 24, 2013

Michigan’s state constitutional amendment barring racial preferences in university admissions and other public institutions might be the next major case dealing with affirmative action laws in the United States.

The U.S. Supreme Court decided today not to decide a Texas affirmative action case where a white student challenged the University of Texas’s admission policy that includes race as one of its deciding factors. 

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the court, says a federal appeals court needs to subject the University of Texas admission plan to the highest level of judicial scrutiny.

The decision is seen as a partial victory for those opposed to the policy. 

The court's 7-1 decision Monday leaves unsettled many of the basic questions about the continued use of race as a factor in college admissions.

The court left intact a 2003 decision (Grutter v Bollinger) in a case involving the University of Michigan law school’s affirmative action admissions policy. At the time, the high court ruled 5 to 4 in favor of the policy. 

University of Michigan president Mary Sue Coleman issued a written statement saying she’s pleased the court upheld Grutter and “continues to recognize the educational benefits that come with a diverse student body.”

In 2006, Michigan voters approved a state constitutional amendment barring “preferential treatment on the basis of race, gender, national origin and ethnicity in public education.”  

The constitutional amendment has been challenged in federal court.  

In 2011, the United States Court of the 6th Circuit overturned the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, saying it placed "special burdens on minorities."

Michigan’s attorney general has appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Attorney General Bill Schuette issued a written statement:

“Today’s ruling has little impact on our pending case in defense of the Michigan Constitution because Fisher involved the application of affirmative action programs. Our case addresses the other side of the coin: the right of states to abandon race and gender-based affirmative action programs altogether in favor of equality and fairness under the law.”

The nation’s highest court plans to hear arguments on the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, also known as Prop 2, this fall.

It will be up to the court to decide whether states can abandon race and gender preferences altogether.