What the Court Got Right, Wrong, in Michigan Case

Editorial boards weigh in on affirmative action ruling

By John Johnson,  Newser Staff

Posted Apr 23, 2014 1:15 PM CDT

(Newser) – The Supreme Court yesterday upheld Michigan's ban on affirmative action, but the debate continues outside the court. A sampling:

  • Wrong decision: The court's majority ruled that state voters were within their rights to decide that colleges can ban affirmative action policies in their admissions. But the New York Times editorial board thinks Sonia Sotomayor got it right in her dissent when she wrote that the US Constitution "places limits on what a majority of the people may do." They can't, for instance, pass laws that oppress minorities, declares the Times, and "that’s what the affirmative action ban does, by altering the political process to single out race and sex as the only factors that may not be considered in university admissions."

  • Right decision: The Washington Post editorial board doesn't agree with the ban itself, but it says the court "nevertheless made the right call in respecting voters’ prerogative to make a different judgment." Reasonable people can disagree on the matter, and "it's not surprising that many citizens are uncomfortable with policies that explicitly favor members of one race over another." Backers of affirmative action shouldn't give up, though. They just need to start developing other ways to push campus diversity.
  • Ditto: The Detroit News agrees with the latter point. "It’s no time to be complacent," write the editors. "Universities like U-M should cultivate other alternatives for boosting their diversity. For instance, they could focus more on students’ socioeconomic status." What's more, schools "could work more closely with minority students in middle and high school—helping them make sure they’re prepared for the academic challenges of college."
  • 'I am affirmative action:' Stephen Henderson of the Detroit Free Press won the Pulitzer for commentary this week, and he reflects on how affirmative action helped him in his career. As a beginner, his newspaper's parent company waived a hiring freeze for him because it wanted to boost minority presence in its newsrooms. "Opportunity, based at least in part on race, opened the door to that career. That is what affirmative action means."

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, left, standing with Jennifer Gratz, who spearheaded the affirmative action ban.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, left, standing with Jennifer Gratz, who spearheaded the affirmative action ban.   (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
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