Supreme Court Hears Challenge to Michigan’s Proposal 2

On October 15, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action (companion case Schuette v. Cantrell). This case will have national consequences on whether a majority of individuals in a state can vote to politically hold back the minority.

In 2006, Michigan passed Proposal 2, a ballot initiative which amended the state constitution to prohibit the consideration of race, gender, color, ethnicity or national origin in the areas of public employment, public education, and public contracting. The question for the Court is whether or not such a ballot initiative is constitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

Mark Rosenbaum, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, argued the case before the Court. “Right now, there are two separate playing fields with two separate rulebooks,” said Rosenbaum in an ACLU press release following oral arguments, noting that individuals can lobby a university for consideration of other factors for admission such as athletic ability, but must amend the state constitution for consideration of race.

This case asks the Court whether or not a state can effectively ban minorities from engaging in precisely the same civic activities that other constituencies have unfettered ability to use. Civil and human rights groups argue that minority students, and others who support a broadly diverse student body, should not have to overturn a constitutional amendment simply to have their voices heard in the admissions process when everyone else can go directly to the university.

“Proposal 2 didn’t just ban race-conscious college admissions, it put a thumb on the scale against minority students in favor of the children of donors, political organizations, or any other constituency that wishes to be included in admissions decisions,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference, following Tuesday’s oral arguments. “This cannot stand and we call on the Supreme Court to uphold the lower court’s ruling that struck down Proposal 2.”

Diversity in Michigan minority enrollment has decreased since 2006, creating a less diverse learning environment and impacting the education experience of all students. Kevin Gaines, a professor of history and African-American Studies at the University of Michigan and a plaintiff in the case, said “the lack of diversity has had a chilling effect on the quality of discourse in the classroom.” Gained added, “a university should be a place where a variety of viewpoints are expressed, shared and debated. Proposal 2 has hindered, not helped, students from receiving the robust education they deserve.”