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Court takes on a new affirmative action case

By Adam Liptak
New York Times

WASHINGTON The Supreme Court on Monday added a new affirmative action case to its docket. It is already considering a challenge to the University of Texas’ race-conscious admissions program.

The new case concerns a voter initiative in Michigan that banned racial preferences in admissions to the state’s public universities. In November, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in Cincinnati, ruled that the initiative, which amended the state constitution, violated the federal Constitution’s equal protection clause.

The initiative, approved in 2006 by 58 percent of the state’s voters, prohibited discrimination or preferential treatment in public education, government contracting and public employment. Groups favoring affirmative action sued to block the part of the law concerning higher education.

The appeals court majority said the problem with the law was it restructured the state’s political process by making it harder for minorities to press for change.

“For a black student seeking the adoption of a constitutionally permissible race-conscious admissions policy. That student could do only one thing to effect change: She could attempt to amend the Michigan Constitution – a lengthy, expensive and arduous process – to repeal the consequences of Proposal 2,” Judge R. Guy Cole Jr. wrote for the majority.

A dissenting member of the court, Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton, wrote that the majority had it backward.

“A state does not deny equal treatment by mandating it,” he said.

In urging the Supreme Court to hear the case, Bill Schuette, Michigan’s attorney general, said the 6th Circuit decision was “exceedingly odd” in saying the government must engage in affirmative action.

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