The tyranny of the majority won. Access to college for African Americans and Latinos suffered another major defeat. Instead of surveying the destruction of opportunity that is occurring at this very hour, the Supreme Court cowered behind a purist reading of the Constitution and upheld the 2006 decision by Michigan voters to ban affirmative action in higher-education admissions.
The decision upheld the right of white voters to continue to roll back the clock.
The ballot initiative was sought by anti-affirmative action forces still smarting over the Supreme Court’s 2003 decision that upheld the use of race as one of many diversity factors at the University of Michigan law school. Michigan is 80 percent white, and ban supporters undoubtedly assumed they could tap into enough resentment over affirmative action to win.
They were correct. The initiative won with 58 percent of the vote. In a CNN exit poll, Proposal 2, as it was called, received 64 percent white support (including 70 percent among white men). It mattered not that African Americans voted against the proposal by nearly a 9 to 1 margin.
The ban was overturned in 2012 by the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals, which found it to be an unconstitutional violation of the Equal Protection Clause. In writing for the majority, Judge R. Guy Cole said the ban placed unique burdens on black students. An obvious one is that students seeking to take advantage of legacy admissions can lobby the admissions committee, university leadership, and the school’s governing board to consider a parent’s alumni status in admissions decisions. But a black student wishing race to be considered — most affirmative action policies were enacted to remedy historical discrimination and disadvantage — had only one option: “amend the Michigan Constitution — a lengthy, expensive, and arduous process.”
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