The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday heard the second of two recent cases dealing with the consideration of race and ethnicity in college admissions decisions, this one a challenge to Michigan’s ban on such use at public higher education institutions.
The case—Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action—follows closely on the heels of another high-profile Supreme Court university admissions case, Fisher v. the University of Texas at Austin (UT). The court issued a decision in Fisher in June, reaffirming the notion that diversity on college campuses offers unique educational benefits to students and is a compelling government interest. It sent the case back to the lower court to reexamine to the constitutionality of UT’s admissions process.
In the Schuette case, a coalition of groups have challenged the Michigan ban, which voters approved in 2006 as an amendment to the state constitution. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit struck down the ban last year, ruling that it violates the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause, which mandates that states must apply their laws equally to all individuals and groups of people.
As in the Fisher case, Justice Kagan has recused herself from Schuette, so the remaining eight justices will make the decision. Seven of the justices were very active in questioning the three counsels who argued the case.
“We would like to see the Michigan ban stricken so that each public institution could make its own decision as to the necessity of considering race or ethnicity in admissions to achieve diversity on campus,” said ACE General Counsel Ada Meloy after yesterday’s session. “However, our main concern, as we argued in our amicus brief, was that the court recognize and continue its Fisher holding that the educational benefits of diversity are a compelling interest and allowing consideration of race or ethnicity in compliance with law. We are hopeful our message was heard.”
If the Supreme Court strikes down the Michigan measure, the ruling could invalidate similar bans in California, Arizona, Florida, Oklahoma, Nebraska, New Hampshire and Washington.