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Supreme Court upholds Michigan’s affirmative action ban

By Kristen Taketa

April 22, 2014 11:00 a.m.

This post was updated at 6:40 p.m.

The Supreme Court upheld a voter-approved affirmative action ban in Michigan that is similar to California’s on Tuesday.

A federal appeals court had previously ruled in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action that Michigan’s Proposition 2, a ban on the consideration of race in university admissions, violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. The court said Proposition 2 made it significantly harder for those who wanted to restore affirmative action and effect change in regards to admissions as opposed to other aspects of university policy.

But the Supreme Court said Tuesday that the federal court’s striking down of the ban wrongfully interfered with the voters’ right to decide whether to approve such a ban through a lawful electoral process.

“This case is not about how the debate about racial preferences should be resolved. It is about who may resolve it,” said Justice Anthony M. Kennedy in an opinion for the case. “There is no authority in the Constitution of the United States or in this Court’s precedents for the Judiciary to set aside Michigan laws that commit this policy determination to the voters.”

UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, who was a campaign advisor for Proposition 209 in 1996, said he supports the Supreme Court decision. He said if the people of a state conclude that there is something wrong in a branch of the government, they should be entitled to voice their opinions in a vote.

“The ultimate authority is not whoever is running the university; it is the people of the state of Michigan,” Volokh said.

Tuesday’s decision did not deal with whether the consideration of race in university admissions itself is constitutional, which has been the main question of a national debate on affirmative action.

Although the decision was not likely to affect California’s voter-approved affirmative action ban, the University of California has in the past voiced support for affirmative action in the case.

The University of California and several UCLA student groups have argued that affirmative action is necessary to increase diversity and that California’s voter-approved affirmative action ban, Proposition 209, led to a downfall in diversity after it went into effect in 1997.

George Washington, attorney for By Any Means Necessary, which was one of the parties arguing for affirmative action in the case, said he is opposed to the Supreme Court’s decision and does not believe the ruling will stand.

“It is a terrible decision. It is a decision that turns over to the states the right to deny blacks and Latinos of the right to go to universities in California or universities in Michigan,” he said.

The University does not have a comment on the Supreme Court ruling, said Dianne Klein, UC spokeswoman.

Contributing reports by Laura Boranian, Bruin contributor.

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Kristen Taketa
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