22 April 2014

Law in Plain English: Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe court decisions in plain English. For more detail and background on the legal issues, see the link to the case below. For similar posts, click here.

SCOTUSblogSchuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action

Argument: Oct 15 2013 (Aud.)

Did you know? Jennifer Gratz, executive director of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (Proposal 2), was the plaintiff in Gratz v. Bollinger, a Supreme Court case about affirmative action in college admissions.

Background: In 2006, Michigan voters passed (by a 58%-42% margin) a ballot initiative (Proposal 2) to amend the state constitution "to prohibit all sex-and race-based preferences in public education, public employment, and public contracting..." The Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action and other interest groups filed a lawsuit alleging that Proposal 2 violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Sixth Circuit reversed the District Court, finding that that Proposal 2 impermissibly altered the political process in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. Sitting en banc, a fractured Sixth Circuit agreed with the panel's decision and reversed the District Court.

Jennifer Gratz. Photo from Wikipedia.
Issue: The question before the Court is whether a state violates the Equal Protection Clause by amending its constitution to prohibit race- and sex-based discrimination or preferential treatment in public-university admissions decisions (Kagan, J., recused.).

Holding: In a 6-2 decision (with Justice Kagan recused), the Supreme Court reversed the Sixth Circuit and ruled that there is no authority in the Federal Constitution or in this Court’s precedents for the Judiciary to set aside Michigan laws that commit to the voters the determination whether racial preferences may be considered in governmental decisions, in particular with respect to school admissions. In doing so, the Court did not rule on the constitutionality, or the merits, of race-conscious admissions policies in higher education; but rather decided that it is permissible for the people, through a referendum, to resolve the issue.
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