Supreme Court Upholds Michigan’s Affirmative Action Ban

In a 6-2 ruling announced on Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a 2006 ballot initiative in Michigan that banned affirmative action policies in publicly funded institutions, including state universities.

Justice Anthony Kennedy delivered the plurality opinion, and was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito. Justices Roberts, Stephen Breyer, and Antonin Scalia filed individual concurring opinions, with Justice Clarence Thomas joining Scalia’s.* Dissenting were Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, while Justice Elena Kagan recused herself, due to her work on a similar case as solicitor general.

The case before the court, Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, challenged the constitutionality of Proposal 2, a successful statewide referendum banning the consideration of race, sex, and religion in hiring or admissions to public institutions. The proposal, also known as the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, has been challenged in courts several times prior to Tuesday’s ruling.

In his opinion, Justice Kennedy stressed that the court did not consider the constitutionality of affirmative action per se, only the right of voters to ban the practice at a state level by putting it to a vote.

Proposal 2’s executive director was Jennifer Gratz (pictured above), who was the plaintiff in a 2003 case over affirmative action that eventually reached the Supreme Court, which in a 6-3 split ruled that the University of Michigan’s admissions policy was unconstitutional. At the time, the university gave a certain number of “points” to applicants who were racial minorities.

* The breakdown was updated to better reflect which Justices joined others in which opinions.

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