WASHINGTON - The debate over racial preferences in higher education admissions could be headed back to the U.S. Supreme Court.
A three-judge panel from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a ban on the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, which was approved by the state’s voters in 2006, according to a Washington Times report.
In a 2-1 decision announced last month, the federal judges said that Proposal 2, which covers race and sex in public university admissions and government hiring, “reorders the political process in Michigan to place special burdens on minority interests.”
The state will appeal the decision, seeking an “en banc” rehearing before the full 6th Circuit court, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said in a statement.
“Entrance to our great universities must be based upon merit, and I will continue to fight for equality, fairness and rule of law,” he said.
But George Washington, a lawyer whose Detroit firm led the lawsuit against the Michigan amendment, said support of the judges’ decision has been overwhelming.
He plans to focus efforts on overturning a similar affirmative-action ban in California.
“We intend to pursue both until we win,” Mr. Washington said, adding that it remains unclear how long it might take for the full 6th Circuit court to decide whether it will rehear the Michigan case.
“I’m sure whoever loses and however they lose is going to take this to the Supreme Court,” Mr. Washington said. “I know we will, and I think the state will. … We think it’s the most important civil rights ruling since Grutter.”
Mr. Washington said the key issue in the Michigan case differs from the decision in Grutter.
“This issue is still a live issue,” said Ada Meloy, general counsel at the American Council on Education in Washington, who notes that at least four states including Michigan have enacted legislation or constitutional amendments that ban affirmative action in higher education.
“The laws that are being passed in these certain states only affect institutions in that particular state, but I believe there is still a movement by certain advocacy groups to try to have these similar laws passed in other states,” she said.