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US appeals court strikes down Michigan ban on affirmative action (+video)

While the 8-7 ruling on affirmative action did not address the constitutionality of race-conscious admissions to college, the majority said Michigan's prohibition on the policy 'places special burdens on racial minorities.'

By Staff writer / November 15, 2012


A federal appeals court has invalidated Michigan’s 2006 ban on race-conscious admissions at the University of Michigan and other public colleges in the state, ruling that the prohibition violates the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause.

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The Sixth US Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati voted 8 to 7 on Thursday to invalidate Proposal 2, a state constitutional amendment that barred race-based affirmative action programs in public education.

Michigan voters approved the amendment 58 percent to 42 percent in a state-wide referendum in November 2006.

The Sixth Circuit decision invalidates the result of that vote and denounces the ballot initiative as a form of political manipulation that placed excessive burdens on minority interests.

“We conclude that Proposal 2 targets a program that inures to the benefit of the minority and reorders the political process in Michigan in a way that places special burdens on racial minorities,” Judge R. Guy Cole wrote in the 36-page majority opinion.

Dissenting judges said the decision stands the constitutional principle of equal protection and equal treatment on its head.

“For the first time, the presumptively invalid policy of racial and gender preference has been judicially entrenched as beyond the political process,” wrote Judge Julia Smith Gibbons in a 16-page dissent.

The decision comes as the US Supreme Court is poised to decide by June a case testing the constitutionality of the use of race in admissions at the University of Texas.

The Michigan case does not involve whether race-based admissions programs violate the constitution. Instead, the Sixth Circuit decision addresses whether the act of amending Michigan’s constitution to ban race-based admissions violated the equal protection rights of minority proponents of race-based admissions.

The majority judges on the Sixth Circuit concluded that it did.

They cited two US Supreme Court precedents from 1969 and 1982 for the proposition that Michigan’s state-wide ban created an unconstitutional burden on minority groups and minority support of affirmative action programs.

The judges said that it must be left up to school officials to decide whether race-based policies would continue or stop. They said a policy debate at the school level would better enable minority groups and other supporters of race-based admissions to effectively present their argument.

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