Does Tuesday’s Supreme Court decision upholding a Michigan ban on affirmative action open the way for lawmakers in other states to establish their own bans?
The decision also proves the tension among the Supreme Court Justices about the need – or otherwise – for specific programs that deal with race inequality in the United States.
The Supreme Court’s 6-2 decision upheld a voter-approved change to the Michigan Constitution that prevented public colleges in the state from taking race issues into account with admissions. That change was indeed up to the voters, the ruling said, over one justice’s impassioned dissent that accused the court of simply wanting to wish away inequality.
The Christian Science Monitor reported: “This decision provides room for opponents of affirmative action to move forward,” says Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation in Washington. “This is a step away from using race [in admissions]. It’s not a leap, but it’s a step. Now public universities will increasingly worry about whether a state initiative will come onto the ballot in their state.”
Michigan, whose voters approved Proposal 2 in 2006, has already effectively ended affirmative action at public colleges. It is one of eight states that have instituted such policies. Six states – California, Washington, Michigan, Nebraska, Arizona, and Oklahoma – have banned race-based admission policies in public higher ed via ballot initiative. (Colorado is the only state in which such an initiative was defeated, in 2008, by a razor-thin margin.) Florida used an executive order to ban the use of racial preferences in state employment and higher-ed admissions, and the New Hampshire legislature has also outlawed race-based affirmative action at public colleges.
Two more states, Georgia and Texas, banned the use of race in public college admissions for a time after lower-court decisions, and after the US Supreme Court in 2003 cleared them to consider race as a factor, top schools in those states chose not to reinstate affirmative action programs.
Taken together, says Mr. Kahlenberg, states that ban any form of affirmative action in admissions educate at least one-quarter of the US student population.
But Kahlenberg also says such bans do not need to lead to less diversity at public universities.
In a 2012 study, he examined the states where race had been banned as a factor in college admissions and looked at the race-neutral policies they used instead. Most states used alternatives based primarily on family income of a student. At 7 of 10 universities he studied – University of Texas in Austin, Texas A&M, University of Washington, University of Florida, University of Georgia, University of Nebraska, and University of Arizona – the percentages of African-American and Latino students in the student body met or exceeded the percentages back when race was a factor in admissions.
Read more at: CS Monitor
See another recent key decision of the Supreme Court here.