Another affirmative action case is going before the supreme court this week. Oral arguments for Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action will be heard on Wednesday. The case centers around an amendment to the Michigan constitution that banned affirmative action in college admissions. The measure passed with 58% of the state's vote in 2006, however, it was struck down by a U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit. The decision was on the grounds that the amendment restructured the political process in a way that adversely affected minorities. A similar measure in California (1996 Proposition 209) was upheld by the California Supreme Court and the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
This new case comes after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on another case concerning affirmative action in college admissions, Fisher v. the University of Texas at Austin. The case involves a white woman who is alleging that the University’s acceptance process discriminated against her based on her race, in violation of the 14th Amendment, by giving preferential treatment to minority races.
The court ruled 7-1 (Justice Elena Kagan has recused herself) that "Because the Fifth Circuit did not hold the University to the demanding burden of strict scrutiny articulated in Grutter and Regents of Univ. of Cal. V. Bakke, its decision affirming the District Court’s grant of summary judgment to the University was incorrect." Basically, this means that the court punted it back to the lower court because the lower court did not argue it correctly the first time.
The case relies on the precedent set in 2003 by Grutter v. Bollinger which affirmed that a quota system designed for racial balancing was unconstitutional, but a university may consider race in obtaining a “critical mass” of student diversity. What constitutes such a “critical mass” has not been defined, and the validity of the metric has come under fire from conservative judges, such as Chief Justice John Roberts. In questioning Roberts said, “… you won’t tell me what the critical mass is. How am I supposed to do the job that our precedents say I should do?”
In Grutter, the court indicated that race could be considered in determining admission, but only if it was “narrowly tailored” and furthered a “compelling interest.” The interest that was deemed compelling in the case was diversity on campus, which was seen to further the cause of education. Whether this interest is upheld and is narrowly tailored in the case of Fisher remains to be seen.
As for the jury, public opinion is sharply divided along racial lines, according to a poll by The Christian Science Monitor. Among all people in the U.S. between 18 and 25 years old, 47% oppose affirmative action programs to redress past discrimination. However, 75% of Black and 63% of Hispanic young people support it.
The Wall Street Journal, Supreme Court Punts on Texas Affirmative-Action Case: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324412604578517602559504498.html?mod=WSJ_hpp_LEFTTopStories
SCOTUS, Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin: www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/fisher-v-university-of-texas-at-austin/
The New York Times, Affirmative Action Ban in Michigan Is Rejected: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/16/education/michigans-affirmative-action-ban-is-ruled-unconstitutional.html?_r=0
Cornell University Law School, The Fourteenth Amendment Annotated: http://www.law.cornell.edu/anncon/html/amdt14a_user.html
Forbes, Michigan Affirmative-Action Ruling a Short-Lived Fight Against the Tide: http://www.forbes.com/sites/danielfisher/2012/11/16/michigan-affirmative-action-ruling-a-short-lived-fight-against-the-tide/
Cornell University Law School, Grutter V. Bollinger: http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/02-241.ZO.html
The Huffington Post, Students Split on Affirmative Action for College Admissions: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/05/affirmative-action-fisher-university-of-texas-at-austin_n_1942720.html
Cornell University Law School, Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School Dist. No. 1: http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/05-908.ZS.html
The Wall Street Journal, Justices Weigh Race in College Admissions: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324789504578382293504702844.html?mod=WSJ_hps_sections_news#articleTabs%3Darticle
U.S. Court of Appeals, Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action v. Schuette: http://www.ca6.uscourts.gov/opinions.pdf/12a0386p-06.pdf