On Tuesday, the Supreme Court upheld Proposal 2, a 2006 ballot initiative that bans Michigan’s public universities from using race-conscious policies in its admission processes. In a 6-2 ruling in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, five justices spanned across conflicting views over what role the government should play in ensuring equality among racial and ethnic minorities.
According to a Tuesday New York Times article, Proposal 2 is a policy approved in 2006 by 58 percent of Michigan’s voters to amend the state constitution to prohibit preferential treatment of minorities in public education, government contracting and public employment admission decisions.
Under Tuesday’s ruling to uphold the constitutionality of Proposal 2, Michigan remains with seven other states — California, Florida, Washington, Arizona, Nebraska, Oklahoma and New Hampshire — in its ability to choose whether to implement such affirmative action policies in its decision processes.
“This case is not about how the debate about racial preferences should be resolved,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in his majority opinion. “It is about who may resolve it … the holding in the instant case is simply that the courts may not disempower the voters from choosing which path to follow.”
Writing for a three-member plurality, Kennedy said the approval of this amendment helps voters undergo “a basic exercise of their democratic power.” Although this ruling specifically focused on the state’s use of race in selecting applicants to public colleges, it also extends the power to voters to end race-conscious decisions in the hiring to state and local employees.
In a strong 58-page dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said upholding this ban puts minorities at a burden not faced by other college applicants, which, as a result, violates the Constitution’s equal protection clause. As a strong proponent for affirmative action policies, she said minority enrollment at Michigan’s public universities would decline as a result of this ruling. According to Sotomayor, as enrollment grew by 10 percent between 2006 and 2010 at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, African-American enrollment dropped 33 percent.
She cited Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling as “the last chapter of discrimination,” as it changes “the basic rules of the political process in that state in a manner that uniquely disadvantaged racial minorities.”
Those against affirmative action policies argue that the combination of paper-based qualifications, personality, creativity and promise of success should be the ultimate grounds on which admissions decisions are made. On the other hand, those for affirmative action policies argue that banning race-conscious decisions hinders the conversation around race in America and jeopardizes institutional equality.
A simple solution to this debate would be to give more weight to the socioeconomic status of the applicant during the decision process rather than recognizing race as a factor altogether. But, if admissions officers just go through applications blindly, without regard to race, socioeconomic status, gender or any discriminating factor, they would be overlooking the importance of the value of diversity in a classroom.
According to the United States Census Bureau, around 20 percent of Michigan residents are minorities, and 16 percent in Michigan live below the poverty line. Such factors need to be considered to ensure diversity both the classroom and workforce. Upholding our country’s promise of equal opportunities for everyone requires the ability to have a fair, and open conversation about race.
In Tuesday’s ruling, the Supreme Court justices had to look at this decision from a legal standpoint, and in the process, cast aside the ideological side to this debate. Although affirmative action policies may seem like a policy created to give minorities an unfair advantage solely based on their demographics, it is a vital consideration that must be made to ensure equal opportunities in the United States.