High Court Decision In Michigan Affirmative Action Case Leaves Requirements For The Consideration Of Race Untouched

The U.S. Supreme Court held yesterday that a voter-approved ban on the use of race-based preferences for public university admissions does not violate the U.S. Constitution. The decision focused narrowly on whether the U.S. Constitution prohibited the voters of Michigan from making a university admissions decision typically made at the university board level—the decision to consider race in admissions. The Court found no constitutional prohibition. The Court’s decision did not disturb the Court’s prior rulings that institutions of higher education and K-12 schools may maintain admissions and student assignment policies that consider race under certain conditions.

Central to the Court’s decision in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action was the finding that voters are properly part of the national dialogue regarding race-conscious admissions policies. Justice Kennedy explained in the opinion of the Court that “[t]he process of public discourse and political debate should not be foreclosed even if there is risk that during a public campaign there will be those, on both sides, who seek to use racial division and discord to their own political advantage.”

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Sotomayor explained the ongoing significance of race in higher education: “Race matters because of the slights, the snickers, the silent judgments that reinforce that most crippling of thoughts: ‘I do not belong here.’”

The National School Boards Association filed an amicus brief prepared by Franczek Radelet attorneys in this case. The “friend of the court” brief addressed the impacts of state provisions prohibiting the use of race in public education on public school districts. Franczek Radelet attorneys Patricia Whitten, Jennifer Smith, and Jackie Wernz prepared the amicus brief, with assistance from Franczek Radelet LEADS fellow Kent Sparks.