The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday surrounding a Michigan voter initiative prohibiting state universities from taking race into consideration when admitting students that could have serious implications on future affirmative action legislation nationwide.
If the Supreme Court upholds Proposal 2, which was passed in 2006, it could have serious effects on supporters of affirmative action. In August, the University of California sent a “friend of the court” brief to the Supreme Court in favor of striking down the ballot initiative. California had a similar ballot initiative, called Proposition 209, that passed in 1996.
The decision by the Supreme Court to review this case came as a surprise after its ruling in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin to send the case back to a lower court.
“The percentages of the UC student population that comprise students from underrepresented-minority groups … dropped sharply in the aftermath of Proposition 209, and the University still has not recovered from this precipitous decline,” read the brief.
Much of the debate surrounding the issue is “preference” versus “equality” when it comes to making decisions about who can get into state institutions. Those in favor of Michigan’s bill argued that the 14th Amendment made affirmative action unconstitutional because it gave preferential treatment to minority students.
Both sides stressed the importance of diversity in higher education but were at odds on how that diversity should be reached.
John Bursch, Michigan’s state solicitor general, argued that race-neutral admissions should be preferred and that there are unsubstantial data supporting affirmative action supporters’ argument that striking down race as a determining factor negatively impacts underrepresented students’ ability to get into college.
Bursch’s argument was based on California’s experience with affirmative action and Prop. 209.
“By going to race-neutral criteria, what they discovered was that underrepresented minority students have higher GPAs, that they take more technology, engineering and math classes, and they have a graduation rate that is 20 to 25 percent higher than it was before California’s Proposition 209,” said Bursch to the court, citing data from the CSU system.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a supporter of affirmative action, suggested that those who are against affirmative action are constantly trying to suppress the ability of students from underrepresented communities to advance into higher education.
“It’s always wonderful for minorities that they finally get in, they finally have children, and now you’re going to do away for that preference for them,” said Justice Sotomayor. “It seems that the game posts keeps changing every few years for minorities.”
It is unclear which way the Supreme Court will vote, but the outcome may set a strong precedent if other states try to pass similar legislation or initiatives in the future.
Contact Jose Hernandez at [email protected]