Supreme Court Upholds Affirmative Action Ban

Michigan ban stands in 6-2 decision
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 22, 2014 10:49 AM CDT
This Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012 file photo shows the US Supreme Court Building Washington.   (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

(Newser) – The Supreme Court today upheld Michigan's ban on affirmative action in public college admissions and state hiring, in a decisive 6-2 decision. Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor were the only dissenting votes, with Elena Kagan having recused herself, Politico reports. The case revolved around a 2006 ballot measure, approved by 58% of voters—which itself came after a 2003 high court decision upholding the practice at the University of Michigan's law school. The decision was widely expected, according to the Wall Street Journal. "This case is not about the constitutionality, or the merits, of race-conscious admission policies," Anthony Kennedy wrote in an opinion for a plurality that included John Roberts and Samuel Alito (pdf here); the AP notes there were four opinions in support of the outcome.

Instead, he said the case was solely about whether voters had the right to decide those merits. "It is demeaning to the democratic process to presume that the voters are not capable of deciding an issue of this sensitivity," he concluded. In her lengthy and passionate dissent, Sotomayor countered that this was a matter of equal protection of the law, and hence the court should intervene. "Democratically approved legislation can oppress minority groups," she wrote. Judges "ought not sit back and wish away, rather than confront, the racial inequality that exists in our society." Kennedy wrote the majority opinion the last time the court took a bite out of affirmative action. (Read more US Supreme Court stories.)

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