Attorney General Bill Schuette will defend the state's affirmative action ban Tuesday. (Steve Perez / AP)
This Tuesday, the Supreme Court hears oral arguments relating to Michigan’s affirmative action ban. The 2006 constitutional amendment, known as the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, prohibits discrimination or preferential treatment based on race or sex in public university admissions. State voters passed it with 58 percent support, and their voice should be respected by the court.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette will defend the state law in court, and he’s got his talking points ready.
“What we’re doing is requiring equal treatment,” Schuette says of the amendment.
Last year, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the racial preferences ban, stating it was unconstitutional because it went against the 14th Amendment equal protection clause. The court argued Michigan’s law violates the clause by limiting minorities’ ability to promote race preferences.
Whether amending the state constitution to end affirmative action in Michigan was a good idea — this newspaper thought it wasn’t at the time — isn’t the issue now. Citizens spoke decidedly, and their will shouldn’t be disregarded by a liberal-leaning appeals court.
The attorney general will argue that treating people differently based on their skin color “perpetuates stereotypes.” As Chief Justice John Roberts stated in a previous case: “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”
That’s what Michigan’s law attempts to do.
Schuette supports broadening the discourse on race, but that should be done via constitutional means, not “by any means necessary,” he says, in reference to the coalition By Any Means Necessary that has fought to overturn Michigan’s ban, as well as a similar law in California. He says diversity can be achieved through myriad other ways, such as considering students’ socioeconomic status.
Jennifer Gratz, the woman who sued the University of Michigan over racial preferences and won at the Supreme Court in 2003, will be back in court to hear the arguments for this case. She’s personally connected to Michigan’s affirmative action ban, as she spent three years working to get the initiative passed. She has also started the XIV Foundation, named after the 14th Amendment, which works to end racial discrimination.
As has been proven in states like California with a similar affirmative action ban, universities have increased racial diversity while improving minority performance and graduation rates. Those are results that actually help young people get ahead in life.
In addition to California, six other states have laws that mirror Michigan’s ban. So those states have a keen interest in the outcome of this case, too.
Hans von Spakovsky, senior legal fellow at The Heritage Foundation, has said there is a strong likelihood the justices will overturn the lower court’s decision. As he argues, that ruling turns a constitutional principle on its head by making the case that a law guaranteeing equal protection somehow denies equal protection.
The Supreme Court should uphold the will of Michigan voters and overturn the appeals court’s decision.