A quick look at the next big Affirmative Action case

The case of Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action will be one of the high-profile cases in the Supreme Court’s next term. Here’s a quick look at the basics, about five weeks before it comes before the Justices.

On October 15th, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Schuette.

The case is about a challenge to Proposal 2, an amendment to the Michigan Constitution that voters approved in 2006 banning affirmative action in the state. A coalition of groups and individuals that favors affirmative action in Affirmative_Action_March_in_WashingtonMichigan challenged the ban and a federal district court largely upheld it.

For the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, a three-judge panel struck down the ban 2-1. The full appeals court re-heard the case en banc and also found that Proposal 2 was unconstitutional.

By an 8-7 margin – but with five opinions in dissent – it ruled that the voters had violated the Equal Protection Clause by placing an unfair burden on racial minorities seeking to change the state’s affirmative action policies.

A black student seeking a race-conscious admissions policy would have to undertake the “long, expensive and arduous process” of amending the state constitution all over again, the majority said. Students seeking to change other admissions policies — for example, to favor “legacy” applicants with relatives who went to the school — could use more readily available means, like lobbying the admissions committee or the university’s leaders.

This is a major Supreme Court case, with a direct conflict in the circuits between this Sixth Circuit position and its opposite taken by the Ninth Circuit about a ban on affirmative action in California that was a model for Michigan’s.

It also comes on the heels of the Court’s decision in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin in June.  The Court in a 7-1 ruled decision to send an affirmative action back to a lower court for reconsideration.

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