On Tuesday, the Supreme Court upheld a Michigan ballot initiative banning race-conscious affirmative action in that state’s university system. The decision surprised virtually no one, given this Supreme Court’s longstanding skepticism of affirmative action programs.
Nevertheless, Wisconsin state Sen. Glenn Grothman (R) waited only a few hours after the decision was handed down before taking a victory lap. Not long after Court delivered its opinions in this case, Grothman announced that he would reintroduce a similar ban on race-conscious admission in his home state. Grothman’s offered similar proposals in the past without success.
Because Grothman’s proposal is a state constitutional amendment, it would need to be approved by lawmakers in two consecutive legislative sessions before it was placed before the state’s voters for final approval.
If Michigan’s history is any guide, Grothman’s amendment would drastically reduce minority admissions in Wisconsin’s top schools. At the University of Michigan’s flagship Ann Arbor campus, black enrollment dropped 30 percent after that state’s affirmative action ban passed in 2006. At the campus’ elite law school, just 14 black students enrolled in 2008, and the number has not topped 18 since that year.
In 2003, prior to this ballot initiative, the Supreme Court upheld Michigan Law’s affirmative action program — although with retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor casting the key fifth vote. As Justice O’Connor explained in her opinion for the Court, affirmative action enriches all students on campus, including white students, by allowing them to learn from the diverse experiences of their classmates. “‘[C]lassroom discussion,” O’Connor wrote, “‘is livelier, more spirited, and simply more enlightening and interesting’ when the students have ‘the greatest possible variety of backgrounds.’”