WASHINGTON (AP) – The Supreme Court seemed prepared Tuesday to uphold a voter-approved ban on taking account of race in college admissions.
The court heard arguments over a 2006 change to the state constitution to prohibit the University of Michigan and other state schools from any consideration of race when they decide whom to admit.
The justices’ focus was more on whether they could craft a narrow ruling to uphold Michigan Proposal 2 or would have to overrule earlier cases that protect minorities’ rights to participate in the political process.
Affirmative action supporters say the amendment itself is a form of discrimination because of the burden they face to repeal the constitutional provision.
That argument did not appear to make much headway with the conservative justices, who have been hostile to considerations of race in education and politics in a series of cases in recent years.
Among the skeptics, Chief Justice John Roberts wondered how there could be a problem with voters saying: “We want to take race off the table and achieve diversity without racial preferences.”
Mark Rosenbaum, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union who argued to strike down the Michigan amendment, said that other groups seeking preferential treatment in admissions could lobby policymakers at the schools _ only race may not be discussed.
“I want the same rule book. I want the same playing field. The problem with Proposal 2 is that it creates two playing fields,” he said.
Shanta Driver, a Detroit-based lawyer also arguing in support of affirmative action, called on the court to bring the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment “back to its original purpose and meaning, which is to protect minority rights against a white majority, which did not occur in this case.”
Driver’s statement provoked a challenge about the amendment’s purpose from Justice Antonin Scalia. “My goodness, I thought we’ve held that the 14th Amendment protects all races. I mean, that was the argument in the early years, that it protected only the blacks. But I thought we rejected that. You say now that we have to proceed as though its purpose is not to protect whites, only to protect minorities?” Scalia said.
The case is the court’s second involving affirmative action in as many years. In June, the justices ordered lower courts to take another look at the University of Texas admissions plan in a ruling that could make it harder for public colleges to justify any use of race in admissions.
Affirmative action itself is not before the court in the current dispute, although the case does have its roots in the court’s decision in 2003 that said in a case from Michigan that race could be a factor in college admissions.
Opponents of that decision organized a ballot proposal that passed three years later. The justices heard differing accounts Tuesday of the effects of the ban on diversity on the Michigan campus in Ann Arbor and at other colleges. Supporters of racial preferences say there has been a decline in minority enrollment.
Defending the provision, Michigan Solicitor General John Bursch said the picture is “muddy,” but told the court that the numbers don’t really matter. Bursch acknowledged that affirmative action in education “is one of the most hotly contested issues of our time” and said the democratic process had worked.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who has said she benefited from affirmative action at Princeton University and Yale Law School, repeatedly challenged Bursch. “One of the main sponsors of this bill said it was intended to segregate again,” Sotomayor said. How could that be permissible, she wanted to know.
But Bursch said again and again that Michigan voters put in place a law that requires equal treatment regardless of race. He said such a provision can’t violate the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause.
Last year, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati found otherwise and struck down the provision on the grounds that it makes it harder for minorities than any other group to take part in the political process. That outcome seemed unlikely to stand at the high court.
Justice Anthony Kennedy was among the justices who appeared to be searching for a way to uphold the Michigan amendment without also overruling two Supreme Court cases from 1969 and 1982. Those earlier cases struck down voter initiatives that sought to undo anti-discrimination measures in education and housing.
Justice Elena Kagan did not take part in Tuesday’s case because she worked on it while serving in the Justice Department before she joined the court. The Obama administration, which supported Texas’ affirmative action plan last term, is not participating at all in the Michigan case.
A decision is expected by spring.
The case is Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, 12-682.
Follow Mark Sherman on Twitter at:
(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
- The 5 worst things you could do for your roof
- 6 coolest things brewing in Arizona
- The virus that keeps head and neck cancers on the rise
- State Fair ‘Kid Reporter’ has all the angles covered
- 4 important things to know about timeshare maintenance fees
- Signs of delayed car crash injuries
- The truth about sports concussions
- The Alzheimer's epidemic: Facts you need to know
- The season is here, keep your Fantasy Football team strong all season
- 8 TV shows you can't miss this fall
- Football is here: 6 tips to make this your best season ever
- Gameday recipes and beers to match
- 6 reasons the Cardinals are driven to win the Super Bowl
- The Pac-12 football season nears kickoff
- Tips to get ready for a pain-free golf season
- Protect your family with these 7 home security features
- How to train like an Olympic swimmer
- 2016 Olympics: A guide to must-see TV events
- The bride's guide to feeling your best on your wedding day
- Deciding when you need knee surgery
- Celebrating Fourth of July is much cooler in these AZ towns
- Top ten road trip bathrooms in America
- Six things causing a pain in your neck
- 5 things to make your summer move easier
- Three elements of a strong timeshare exit guarantee
- Stretches and exercises for carpal tunnel syndrome
- The best Major League ballparks have their own personality
- Comparing the best regular seasons: The '96 Bulls and '16 Warriors
- 3 Arizona road trips and the vehicles to get you there
- Colon cancer is preventable. Check these signs and symptoms to stay healthy.