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Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action

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Brief Fact Summary.

The respondent challenged Michigan’s policy of considering racial preferences in governmental decisions, in particular with respect to school admissions.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

When hurt or injury is inflicted on racial minorities by the encouragement or command of laws or other state action, the Constitution requires redress by the courts.

Points of Law - Legal Principles in this Case for Law Students.

Our constitutional system embraces, too, the right of citizens to debate so they can learn and decide and then, through the political process, act in concert to try to shape the course of their own times and the course of a nation that must strive always to make freedom ever greater and more secure.

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Facts.

Under the terms of a Michigan constitutional amendment, race-based preferences cannot be part of the admissions process for state universities. In Michigan, the State Constitution invests independent boards of trustees with plenary authority over public universities, including admissions policies. Though the members of the boards are elected, some evidence indicates they delegated authority over admissions policy to the faculty. But regardless, Michigan’s public universities did consider race as a factor in admissions decisions before 2006.

Issue.

May voters determine whether a policy or race-based preferences should be continued, especially in school admissions process?

Held.

Yes, there is no authority in the Constitution of the United States or in this Court’s precedents for the Judiciary to set aside Michigan laws that commit this policy determination to the voters. It is the right of individuals to speak and debate and learn and then to act through a lawful electoral process.

Dissent.

Justice Sotomayor

The Constitution does not protect racial minorities from political defeat. But neither does it give the majority free rein to erect selective barriers against racial minorities. Today’s decision eviscerates an important strand of our equal protection jurisprudence. For members of historically marginalized groups, which rely on the federal courts to protect their constitutional rights, the decision can hardly bolster hope for a vision of democracy that preserves for all the right to participate meaningfully and equally in self-governemnt.

Concurrence.

Justice Breyer

The Michigan’s amendment is consistent with the Equal Protection Clause. First, we do not address the amendment insofar as it forbids the use of race-conscious admissions programs designed to remedy past exclusionary racial discrimination or the direct effects of that discrimination. Second, the Constitution allows local, state, and national communities to adopt narrowly tailored race-conscious programs designed to bring about greater inclusion and diversity. But the Constitution foresees the ballot box, not the courts, as the normal instrument for resolving differences and debates about the merits of these programs.

Justice Scalia

Any law expressly requiring state actors to afford all persons equal protection of the laws does not deny to any person equal protection of the laws, regardless of whatever evidence of seemingly foul purposes plaintiffs may cook up in the trial court. Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. The people of Michigan wish the same for their governing charter. It would be shameful for the Court to stand in their way.

Discussion.

The freedom secured by the Constitution consists, in one of its essential dimensions, of the right of the individual not to be injured by the unlawful exercise of governmental power. Individual liberty has constitutional protection, and that liberty’s full extent and meaning may remain yet to be discovered and affirmed. Yet freedom does not stop with individual rights. Our constitutional system embraces the right of citizens to debate so they can learn and decide and then, through the political process, act in concert to try to shape the course of their own times and the course of a nation that must strive always to make freedom ever greater and more secure. Here Michigan voters acted in concert and statewide to seek consensus and adopt a policy on a difficult subject against a historical background of race in America that has been a source of tragedy and injustice. That history demands that we continue to learn and to remain open to new approaches if we are to aspire always to a constitutional order in which all persons are treated with fairness and equal dignity.


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