LatinoJustice files amicus brief with U.S. Supreme Court in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action

LatinoJustice has joined with the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and a broad coalition of over 30 national civil rights organizations to submit an amicus brief on behalf of the civil and human rights community in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action (companion case Schuette v. Cantrell).

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court announced they will hear arguments in Schuette on Tuesday, October 15, at 1pm. The companion Cantrell case is being litigated by the ACLU of Michigan, Detroit Branch of the NAACP, ACLU of Southern California, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and the ACLU. Much of the press coverage on Cantrell has incorrectly linked the case with the Fisher affirmative action case decided by the Supreme Court this past June. The legal questions before the Court are however very distinct. In Fisher, the Supreme Court in a 7-1 decision reaffirmed that universities may consider racial and ethnic diversity as a factor on their admissions’ policy, and endorsed its prior holdings in Bakke and Grutter that affirmation action plans are deserving of judicial deference when furthering a state’s compelling interest in fostering a diverse student body. The court remanded the case back to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to apply the strict scrutiny standard of review of UT-Austin’s race conscious admissions plan to determine that it was narrowly tailored to meet the University’s compelling interest in diversity which the Circuit had not done previously.

The Cantrell case is about reaffirming the constitutional principle that our democratic processes must be open and accessible to all citizens. Michigan in response to the Supreme Court’s 2003 Grutter v. Bollinger decision holding that the University of Michigan could foster a diverse student body through its admission process passed a ballot initiative, Proposal 2 in 2006, amending its state constitution to ban equal opportunity programs. Plaintiffs who are racially diverse and include University of Michigan faculty who state that diversity is essential to the student body, students of color who have benefitted from diversity at the University, and white students and applicants who refuse to enroll in a university that doesn’t value diversity sued contending that the proposal would violate the Equal Protection Clause, by placing an unconstitutional burden on protected groups and causing them lasting harm. In March 2008, a federal district court upheld Prop 2.

On appeal, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in July 2011 struck down (2-1) Michigan’s ban on equal opportunity programs in public higher education, employment, and contracting holding that the ban “unconstitutionally alters Michigan’s political structure by impermissibly burdening racial minorities. Michigan appealed the ruling and the 6th circuit granted en banc review. In response, LatinoJustice then joined with more than a dozen other civil rights organizations in an amicus brief contending that Proposition 2 is unconstitutional because it indoctrinates one group’s interests into the state constitution, effectively destroying minorities’ and women’s ability to even advocate for their interests without seeking yet another constitutional amendment.

On November 15, 2012, the 6th Circuit in an 8-7 ruling found that parts of Michigan’s law banning equal opportunity programs at public universities are unconstitutional. The court found that Prop 2 violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment by presenting an extraordinary burden to minority students which “undermines the Equal Protection Clause’s guarantee that all citizens ought to have equal access to the tools of political change.” Michigan was subsequently granted leave to appeal by the U.S. Supreme Court.

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