UNC Center for Civil Rights Joins Amicus Curiae Brief to Defend Narrowly Tailored use of Race in College Admissions

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The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, along with the UNC Center for Civil Rights and thirty other national civil rights organizations filed an amicus curiae brief in the U.S. Supreme Court in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action. The case involves a challenge to a 2006 statewide referendum in Michigan that sought to amend the state constitution to prevent the Michigan colleges from any consideration of race in college admissions, eliminating the narrowly tailored race conscious admissions upheld by the Supreme Court in Grutter v. Bollinger and recently reaffirmed in Fisher v. University of Texas. The Center submitted briefs on behalf of UNC Law School in Grutter and of UNC-Chapel Hill in Fisher.

Following the passage of the referendum, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and other advocates filed a challenge on behalf of students, faculty, and applicants under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. They argued that the referendum effectively changed the Michigan’s political system in a discriminatory manner that impeded the ability of African Americans and other protected classes to enact legislation in their interest.

While the trial court upheld the amendment, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, finding the referendum and amendment were unconstitutional. An en banc review of the entire circuit court affirmed the ruling by a narrowly divided 8-7 vote. The state of Michigan appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is set to hear arguments in the case on October 15.

In the brief joined by the Center, amici argue that heightened scrutiny under the 14th amendment is the appropriate standard or review for race-based referendums that change a state’s constitution. This “political restructuring doctrine” was affirmed in Washington v. Seattle School District No. 1 (1982) when the Court struck down a statewide neighborhood school policy even though the Seattle district voluntarily sought to bus to promote racial diversity. The political restructuring doctrine prohibits the use of one aspect of governmental power to foreclose other means of democratic influence to a particular protected minority group.

The amici brief writes separately to emphasize two points, that “heightened judicial scrutiny under the political restructuring doctrine is particularly appropriate for race-focused constitutional amendments passed by ballot initiative,” and also the particular importance of the doctrine in the “high-stakes context of education.”

Read the amicus brief (PDF).

Read the Center’s Fisher v. University of Texas brief.
Posted by Peter Hull Gilbert on Tue. September 24, 2013 3:38 PM
Categories: Amicus Curiae, Education, Race Discrimination

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