Washington Update

Supreme Court Rules on States’ Right to Prohibit Consideration of Race in Admissions

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On April 22, the United States Supreme Court issued an opinion in its ruling on Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action.  The Court’s decision upheld a constitutional amendment that Michigan voters approved to ban the consideration of race and gender in public education. The Michigan ballot initiative, known as Proposal 2, was passed in 2006 by 58 percent of voters.  Proposal 2 created Section 26 of the Michigan Constitution, banning public universities and schools from using race as a factor in admissions decisions.  The amendment was the outcome of a battle over race-conscious admissions policies in Michigan’s public universities.  

With the Schuette ruling, the Supreme Court did not end affirmative action but instead upheld the right of state voters to ban it. The ruling in this case was emblemized by Justice Kennedy: “This case is not about how the debate about racial preferences should be resolved. It is about who may resolve it.  There is no authority in the Constitution of the United States or in this Court’s precedents for the judiciary to set aside Michigan laws that commit this policy determination to the voters.”  

In essence, the question in Schuette was in what manner voters in the states may choose to prohibit the consideration of racial preferences in admission standards. The ruling supports laws similar to Michigan’s ban in such states as California (banned in 1998), Florida (banned in 2001), Texas (banned in 1997), and Washington (banned in 1999), and solidifies the right of states to determine the usage of affirmative action.  

The Supreme Court’s decision has no bearing on the legality of race-conscious admission policies, as Justice Kennedy states: “The constitutional validity of some of those choices regarding racial preferences is not at issue here.”  ADEA prepared a memorandum which details the Court’s decision in the case.

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