In a ruling that could lead to a Supreme Court battle, an appeals court struck down an amendment to the Michigan constitution which banned colleges from considering race and gender during the admissions process. This practice, known as affirmative action, is understandably controversial: proponents say that it helps minorities and other groups gain a level footing because of past and present discrimination, while critics claim that it unfairly advantages women and minorities.
NPR reports that the court was mostly concerned with how the ban was created. Because it entered as an amendment to the state constitution, it can only be altered by another statewide vote, placing what the court saw as an undue burden on minorities who might attempt to overturn it. In the majority opinion, Judge R. Guy Cole explained that supporters could have created “less onerous avenues to effect political change…the majority has not only won, but also rigged the game to reproduce its success indefinitely.”
The ban’s proponents said that they will appeal the decision, to ensure that, in the words of Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, “Entrance to our great universities must be based upon merit.” Others, including a woman who successfully sued the University of Michigan over racial preferences before there referendum, added that because this was what 58 percent of Michigan voters wanted in 2006, the ban will stay in place.
However, the ACLU praised the ruling, saying that it “kept the door open for thousands of academically qualified students of color to continue to pursue the American dream through our state’s colleges and universities.”
Perhaps most interestingly, major businesses like General Motors joined ACLU in lauding the court’s majority. Companies’ hiring practices were impacted by the ban, and its overturn, according to a former General Motors executive, “gives governments and universities the tools they need to improve diversity and inclusion.”
Clearly, the stage is set for the battle to continue, and neither side has definitively won. But the court does raise an interesting point: even if voters implement something like a ban on affirmative action, are there methods of enforcement, like constitutional amendments, that are just too onerous for minorities to successfully oppose? And then of course there is the longer debate about affirmative action itself, and whether it has a place in college admissions and hiring practices.
What do you think? Should Michigan voters’ ban on affirmative action stand, or should it be struck down?
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.