The U.S. Supreme Court upheld Michigan’s ban on applying ethnic criteria to admissions to state universities and community colleges.
The justices voted 6-2 to reject a challenge to the anti-affirmation amendment of the state constitution that Michigan voters approved in 2006.
Justice Elena Kagan recused herself due to her earlier involvement in the litigation as U.S. solicitor general.
“This case is not about how the debate about racial preferences should be resolved. It is about who may resolve it,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in one of three separate majority opinions.
“There is no authority in the Constitution of the United States or in this Court’s precedents for the Judiciary to set aside Michigan laws that commit this policy determination to the voters,” Kennedy said.
Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg were in the minority.
In a 2003 case concerning Michigan, the Supreme Court upheld the consideration of race and ethnic group as a factor for granting university admission.
Opponents of affirmative action then initiated a campaign to hold a referendum in Michigan, and in 2006 some 58 percent of voters passed an amendment to the state constitution banning discrimination or preferential treatment in public education, government contracts or public employment.
Groups favoring affirmative action then filed suit to block the application of that law, at least as it referred to higher education.
The ruling in the Michigan case not only affects other states with similar bans but could also inspire other referendums to be called.
Arizona, California, Florida, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Washington have similar prohibitions to the one approved for Michigan.
Sotomayor’s dissent, which takes up 57 of the 108 pages of the document handed down by the Supreme Court, called the decision a blow to “historically marginalized groups, which rely on the federal courts to protect their constitutional rights.”
The court, she said, was “permitting the majority to use its numerical advantage to change the rules mid-contest and forever stack the deck against racial minorities in Michigan.”
Enrollment of black and Hispanic students at the University of Michigan has diminished since the ban on affirmative action took effect.