Friday, October 18, 2013

Affirmative Action back in U.S. Supreme Court crosshairs

Today, the conservative leaning Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a new affirmative action case out of Michigan. Nearly a decade ago, a more balanced court ruled in Grutter v. Bollinger that racial preferences in law school admissions was permissible with the aim of fostering a diverse learning environment.

Affirmative action opponents, will argue in this new case, Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, that a state’s electorate should be allowed to vote on measures which outlaw any affirmative action in college admissions. Since there is a direct dispute on this legal question among the lower courts, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case even before they ruled in Fisher v. University of Texas another controversial affirmative action case they decided earlier this year.

This current case is about whether Michigan’s “Proposal 2”, the state’s constitutional amendment outlawing affirmative action, is constitutional. “Proposal 2” is an outright ban of preferences which use race, gender, color, ethnicity, or national origin in public employment and public contracting, as well as in public colleges. “Proposal 2” was approved by Michigan voters in November 2006, 58 percent to 42 percent in favor of outlawing any preferences at all. This complete ban on “preferential treatment” is being challenged by a group of individuals and civil rights groups who argue that banning affirmative action outright is harmful to people of color because it’s an anti-discrimination referendum that results in discrimination.

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