The U.S. Supreme Court upheld Michigan’s controversial ban on affirmative action in public college admissions in a divided opinion released Tuesday morning. Many feel that it’s this status quo that has contributed to the lack of minority enrollment at the state’s flagship college.
While Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, Justice Sonia Sotomayor authored the dissenting opinion. The decision was divided 6-2, as Justice Kagan removing herself from the case because she was the U.S. solicitor general when the case was before the lower courts.
The decision could lead more states to enact bans against race preferences in university admissions, but it does not affect university affirmative action programs in other states. Currently, California, Florida, Washington, Arizona, Nebraska, Oklahoma and New Hampshire have similar bans.
“This case is not about how the debate (over racial preferences) should be resolved,” Justice Anthony Kennedy said in announcing the ruling. But to stop Michigan voters from making their own decision on affirmative action would be “an unprecedented restriction on a fundamental right held by all in common.”
Justice Sonia Sotomayor read a summary of her lengthy, 58-page dissent from the bench, in which Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined. She said the decision creates “a two-tiered system of political change” by requiring only race-based proposals to surmount the state Constitution, while all other proposals can go to school boards.
As a result of the ruling, said Sotomayor, a product of affirmative action policies, minority enrollment will decline at Michigan’s public universities, just as it has in California and elsewhere. “The numbers do not lie,” she said.
University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman and admissions director Ted Spencer opposed the affirmative action ban, saying that the school cannot achieve a fully diverse student body with it in place.
“It’s impossible,” Spencer said in a recent interview, “to achieve diversity on a regular basis if race cannot be used as one of many factors.