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Sixth Circuit Stays Affirmative Action Ruling Pending SCOTUS Review

By Robyn Hagan Cain on December 03, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Could the Supreme Court hear two university affirmative action cases this term?

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in November that Michigan’s affirmative action ban was unconstitutional because it posed an extraordinary burden to opponents who would try to protect affirmative action. That ruling, which would reinstate affirmative action in the state, has been put on hold.

Last week Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette filed a petition asking the Supreme Court to review the decision, The Associated Press reports. As a result of the state's appeal, the Sixth Circuit is staying its ruling while the Supreme Court considers whether it will hear the case.

Voters amended the Michigan Constitution to adopt the affirmative action ban in 2006. The initiative -- known as Proposal 2 -- was a response to the Supreme Court's 2003 affirmative action rulings in Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger. The appellate court, in an 8-7 split, held that Proposal 2 deprives the affirmative action proponents of equal protection of the law under the political process doctrine.

Relying on the Supreme Court's Hunter v. Erickson and Washington v. Seattle School District No. 1 decisions, the appellate majority observed that enactment of a law can deprive minority groups of the equal protection of the laws when it: (1) has a racial focus, targeting a policy or program that "inures primarily to the benefit of the minority:" and (2) reallocates political power or reorders the decision-making process in a way that places special burdens on a minority group's ability to achieve its goals through that process."

Here, the Sixth Circuit concluded that Proposal 2 was unconstitutional because it targets a program that "inures primarily to the benefit of the minority" and reorders the political process in Michigan in a way that places special burdens on racial minorities.

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