Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action

Justia Summary

After the Supreme Court decided that the University of Michigan’s undergraduate admissions plan’s use of race-based preferences violated the Equal Protection Clause, but that its law school admission plan’s limited use did not, Michigan voters adopted a new section of the state constitution (Proposal 2), prohibiting use of race-based preferences in the admissions process for state universities. The district court upheld Proposal 2, but the Sixth Circuit reversed, concluding that it violated Supreme Court precedent. The Supreme Court reversed. Justice Kennedy, with Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito, reasoned that the principle that consideration of race in admissions is permissible when certain conditions are met was not challenged; the issue was whether, and how, state voters may choose to prohibit consideration of such racial preferences. The decision by Michigan voters reflects an ongoing national dialogue; there was no infliction of a specific injury of the type at issue in cases cited by the Sixth Circuit. Individual liberty has constitutional protection, but the Constitution also embraces the right of citizens to act through a lawful electoral process, as Michigan voters did. Justices Scalia and Thomas stated that the question here, as in every case in which neutral state action is said to deny equal protection on account of race, is whether the challenged action reflects a racially discriminatory purpose. Stating that it did not, the Justices stated that the proposition that a facially neutral law may deny equal protection solely because it has a disparate racial impact “has been squarely and soundly rejected.” Justice Breyer agreed that the amendment is consistent with the Equal Protection Clause, but reasoned that the amendment only applies to, and forbids, race-conscious admissions programs that consider race solely in order to obtain the educational benefits of a diverse student body; the Constitution permits, but does not require, the use of that kind of race-conscious program. The ballot box, not the courts, is the instrument for resolving debates about such programs. This case does not involve a diminution of the minority’s ability to participate in the political process.