Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action
The Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments in a case that seeks to strike Michigan's Proposal 2 as unconstitutional because it bars students from lobbying universities to consider race as but one of nearly 100 factors in admissions.
Shortly after the Supreme Court's decision to uphold the constitutionality of affirmative action in 2003's Grutter v. Bollinger, opponents of equal opportunity began a campaign to destroy affirmative action in Michigan. The result was Proposal 2, a ballot initiative campaign marked by widespread fraud and deception. Although a federal court found the proponents of the initiative, the so-called American Civil Rights Institute, to have committed a campaign of deception in violation of the rights of the citizens of Michigan, the initiative was nonetheless put before the voters in the fall of 2006 and passed by a margin of 58% to 42%. In response, Michigan's public universities put an end to their affirmative action programs.
In December of 2006, a diverse group of students, prospective students and faculty at the University of Michigan, represented by the ACLU, NAACP, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the law firm of Cravath, Swaine and Moore, LLP, challenged the constitutional amendment in the lawsuit Cantrell v. Granholm
Cantrell v. Granholm, argued that Proposal 2 violates the Equal Protect Clause of the United States Constitution by creating a double standard in university admissions for people of color. The suit argued that Proposal 2 denies students of color the opportunity to talk about their racial experiences, while leaving other students free to talk about other non-academic factors, thereby discriminating against students of color. The suit also maintained that the passage of Proposal 2 created an unfair political process in establishing a lengthy and expensive campaign to amend the Michigan constitution as the only remedy for any student of color who might wish to challenge a university's admissions policies.
The U.S. District Court for the District of Eastern Michigan combined the case with Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action v. Granholm, another challenge to Proposal 2. Afterwards, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the state in both cases.
After a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit struck down Proposal 2 agreeing that it violated the Constitution's Equal Protection Clause in 2012, Michigan's attorney general, Bill Schuette, requested that the full court reconsider the case. In November 2012, a 15-judge panel struck down the amendment again, explaining that a state law violates the Equal Protection Clause when it makes the processes of government decision-making turn on the racial nature of the issue being considered.
This case does not address the merits of race-conscious admissions, which have been previously upheld by the Supreme Court. For instance, in Grutter v. University of Michigan, the court held that the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution does not prohibit the narrowly tailored use of race in admissions decisions to further the educational benefits that come from a diverse student body.