Supreme Court Takes Up Case on State Preference Bans—Why the Issue Sounds Familiar

The Supreme Court of the United States has taken up a case questioning the constitutionality of state bans on race-conscious admissions policies at public universities.  The case hails from Michigan, where voters approved a Constitutional amendment outlawing the use of these policies at Michigan higher education institutions (Read more on the case here).

The issue likely resonates as a familiar one to those who followed a similar bill in Tennessee last year.  The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jim Summerville (R-Dickson), sought to ban the granting of preference based on race, gender, or ethnicity to students, employees, and contractors.   The University of Tennessee and other public higher education stakeholders opposed the Tennessee bill for several reasons, particularly because the legislation failed to clearly define the term “preference”.  Attempts to define “preference” via an amendment to the bill were unsuccessful and deemed unfriendly by the bill’s sponsor and Ward Connerly, the author of the bill and head of a litigation group out of California.

The University stressed to legislators last year that it does not grant preference solely based on these factors (as federal law already prohibits it) but that these factors may be used as one consideration among many to ensure the delivery of a demographically diverse student and faculty population.

As the issue emerges again for the 2014 legislative session, the Schuette vs. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action case will likely be central to the discussion.  The Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling on the case by June 2014, the end of the Court’s current term.

A few weeks ago, The Chronicle of Higher Education published the chart below illustrating the impacts of preference bans on college enrollment.  Click here for their recent story which addresses several recent cases involving this issue.

Impactofprefbans_enrollment