Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action

PETITIONER: Schuette
RESPONDENT: Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, et al.
LOCATION: United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan

DOCKET NO.: 12-682
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
LOWER COURT:

CITATION: 572 US (2014)
GRANTED: Mar 25, 2013
ARGUED: Oct 15, 2013
DECIDED: Apr 22, 2014

ADVOCATES:
John J. Bursch - Michigan Solicitor General, for the petitioner
Mark D. Rosenbaum - for Cantrell respondents
Shanta Driver - for Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action respondents

Facts of the case

In November 2006 election, a majority of Michigan voters supported a proposition to amend the state constitution to prohibit "all sex-and race-based preferences in public education, public employment, and public contracting." The day after the proposition passed, a collection of interest groups and individuals formed the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigration Rights and Fight for Equality by Any Means Necessary (Coalition). The Coalition sued the governor and the regents and boards of trustees of three state universities in district court by arguing that the proposition as it related to public education violated the Equal Protection Clause. About a month later, the Michigan Attorney General and Eric Russell, an applicant to the University of Michigan Law School, filed separate motions to intervene as defendants, which were granted. Both sides moved for summary judgment and the plaintiffs moved to have Russell removed from the case as he did not represent interests separate from those of the Michigan Attorney General. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants and granted the motion to remove Russell as an intervenor. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part by holding the proposed amendment unconstitutional and upholding the removal of Russell as a party to the litigation.

Question

Does an amendment to a state's constitution to prohibit race-and sex-based discrimination and preferential treatment in public university admission decisions violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?

Media for Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - April 22, 2014 (Part 2) in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 15, 2013 in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - April 22, 2014 (Part 1) in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action

Justice Kennedy has opinion this morning in case 12-682, Schuette versus Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action Integration and Immigration Rights.

This is a brief summary of the opinion announcing the judgment of the Court.

The Court in this case must determine whether an amendment to the Constitution of the State of Michigan, the State Constitution approved and enacted by Michigan voters is invalid under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

In response to this Court's decision in 2003 in Gratz versus Bollinger which concerned race based preferences in higher education, the University of Michigan revised its undergraduate admissions process.

The new process still allowed limited use of race based preferences at the university.

There was a statewide debate on the question of state sponsored racial preferences.

And after that debate, Michigan voters in 2006 adopted an amendment to the State Constitution.

That amendment prohibited state and other governmental entities in Michigan from granting certain preferences including race based preferences and a wide variety of state actions.

And under the terms of the amendment race base preferences cannot be part of the admissions process for state universities.

The ballot proposal was called “Proposal 2”, it passed by a margin of 58% to 42%.

The resulting enactment became Article I Section 26 of the Michigan Constitution, and sometimes it's referred to as “Proposal 2”, the number of the ballot proposal, sometimes as to Section 26, the number of the amendment to the State Constitution when it was formally made part of the Constitution.

The voters enacted -- the voter enacted amendment was challenged as unconstitutional.

The United States District Court granted summary judgment upholding -- upholding it.

A panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed.

The panel majority held that Proposal 2 had violated the principles elaborated by this Court in an earlier case, Washington versus Seattle School District No. 1 and in the cases that Seattle relied upon.

Then the Court of Appeals sitting en banc as a full court agreed with the panel decision.Seven judges dissented in a number of opinions and this Court granted certiorari.

It's important to note what this case is not about.

It is not about the constitutionality or the merits of race conscious admissions policies in higher education.

The consideration of race and admissions presents complex questions.

Those issues were address in part in Fisher versus The University of Texas at Austin, decided by this Court last term.

In Fisher, the Court did not disturb the principle that consideration of race in admissions is permissible provided that certain conditions are met.

And today's case as in Fisher, this principle is not challenged.

This case is not about how the debate about racial preferences should be resolved.

This is about who may resolve it.

Today, the judgment of the Court now states this.

There is no authority in the Constitution of the United States or in this Court's precedence for the judiciary to set aside Michigan laws that commit this policy determination to the voters.

In declaring Section 26 invalid in the context of student admissions at state universities, the Court of Appeals relied in primary part on this Court's decisions in Seattle, decision in Seattle which had deemed to control the case.

The Seattle opinion and the Seattle decision included a broad statement to this effect.

Any state action with a racial focus that makes it more difficult for certain racial minorities than for other groups to achieve legislation that is in their interest is subject to strict scrutiny.

The holding of the Seattle case can and does remain intact, but that language was dictum.

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