[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] 6-2 Tuesday in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action [SCOTUSblog backgrounder] that the judiciary lacks the authority to overturn a Michigan voter initiative that amended the state's constitution to prohibit race- and sex-based discrimination or preferential treatment in public university admissions decisions. The case concerns Proposal 2 [JURIST report], a 2006 Michigan state constitutional amendment that prohibits preferential treatment based on "race, gender, color, ethnicity or national origin" in public employment, public education and state contracting. The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit struck down [JURIST report] the ban in 2012. The court reversed the opinion below. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority, emphasizing that the case is not about the constitutionality of the provision:
Before the Court addresses the question presented, it is important to note what this case is not about. It is not about the constitutionality, or the merits, of race-conscious admissions policies in higher education. ... The question here concerns not the permissibility of race-conscious admissions policies under the Constitution but whether, and in what manner, voters in the States may choose to prohibit the consideration of racial preferences in governmental decisions, in particular with respect to school admissions.Chief Justice John Roberts filed a concurring opinion. Justice Antonin Scalia also filed a concurring opinion, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas. Justice Stephen Breyer filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. Justice Sonia Sotomayor filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, finding that Proposal 2 violates equal protection. Justice Elena Kagan took no part in the consideration of the case.
Proposal 2 explicitly applied to the University of Michigan, whose affirmative action policies in admissions were reviewed by the US Supreme Court in the Grutter and Gratz [opinions] cases in 2003. The court ruled that the US Constitution permitted the university to consider race as a factor in the admissions process, upholding the University law school admissions policy while rejecting the more rigid undergraduate admissions system as discriminatory. Last term the court ruled [JURIST report] in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin [SCOTUSblog backgrounder] that the appeals court did not apply the correct standard in upholding a ruling for the university in an affirmative action challenge.