Today the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action upholding a 2006 Michigan voter ban on the use of race in university admissions. Following the Court's 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger, which confirmed that a narrowly tailored system to consider race in higher education admissions was constitutional, voters in Michigan approved a ban on the use of affirmative action in state higher education, as well as in the awarding of state contracts.
The Court's 108-page slip opinion (and 6-2 vote) overturns a prior 6th Circuit ruling. Delivering the majority opinion for the Court, Justice Kennedy stressed that the issue at hand was not whether the ban injured certain parties but whether such a ban by voters was constitutional:
"Michigan voters exercised their privilege to enact laws as a basic exercise of their democratic power, bypassing public officials they deemed not responsive to their concerns about a policy of granting race-based preferences. . . [T]his Nation's constitutional system also embraces the right of citizens to speak and debate and learn and then, as a matter of political will, to act through a lawful electoral process, as Michigan voters have done here."
In addition to Kennedy's majority opinion, Justices Roberts, Scalia, and Breyer issued separate concurring opinions.
Justice Sotomayor wrote the lone dissent, joined by Justice Ginsburg: "We are fortunate to live in a democratic society. But without checks, democratically approved legislation can oppress minority groups. For that reason, our Constitution places limits on what a majority of the people may do." Referring to historically biased practices such as voter laws and literacy tests, she continued, "Yet to know the history of our Nation is to understand its long and lamentable record of stymieing the right of racial minorities to participate in the political process."
It is important to note that today's ruling does not reverse prior rulings allowing for the use of race in higher education admissions (Bakke, Grutter, Fisher) but does pave the way for more states to introduce legislation that would allow voters to make a choice as to whether they support the use of affirmative action.