A Trifecta of Cases Before the U.S. Supreme Court to Shape Racial Justice Policy for Years to Come

Rulings will portend future of civil rights and equal opportunity

Media Contact: Candice Francis / Communications Director, LCCR /  415.543.9697 x216 / cfrancis@lccr.com
The U.S. Supreme Court today granted review of Scheutte v. Michigan Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, the Sixth Circuit decision that Michigan’s anti-affirmative action law, Proposition 2, is unconstitutional. More than a decade ago, the Ninth Circuit reached the opposite conclusion when it upheld Proposition 209 California’s anti-affirmative action measure, a doppelganger of Proposition 2. A Supreme Court ruling affirming the Sixth Circuit would almost certainly invalidate California’s Proposition 209 as well.
This case and the pending decision by the Court on Fisher v. University of Texas, which challenges consideration of race in admissions policies, and Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, which considers the constitutionality of provisions of the Voting Rights Act, brings us to an extraordinary moment in terms of the high court weighing in on issues of racial justice.
“There are now three blockbuster cases pending before the Supreme Court on issues of racial justice,” says Oren Sellstrom, Legal Director at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area. The looming question, says Sellstrom, is “will the Court send the nation down the road of considering all race-conscious measures as ‘racial entitlements,’ as Justice Scalia called the Voting Rights Act, or will it recognize that we continue to live in a world where discrimination still exists and where government measures to combat discrimination and promote diversity are still necessary?”
While Fisher involves only higher education, the Michigan case and Proposition 209 in California more broadly affect public education, contracting, and employment practices. Proposition 209 has significantly impacted not only diversity in higher education but equal opportunity in the business arena as well. In the Michigan case, the appeals court agreed with arguments that the Lawyers’ Committee and others have long made about Prop 209 – that the initiative violates Equal Protection by taking away the ability of minority communities to urge their local government to address issues of continued discrimination.
Many minority-and women-owned businesses have been decimated by Proposition 209 in the public contracting arena, which limits the ability of state and local governments to ensure equal opportunity. Without the ability to appeal to their local or state representatives to enact legislation to remediate demonstrated discrimination and exclusion, minority- and women-owned businesses have seen a return to the “old boys network” where majority-owned firms monopolize virtually all of the contracting work and often do not even allow minority- and women-owned firms to compete for contracting opportunities. For example, a comprehensive study of the California Department of Transportation’s (Caltrans) contracting showed that after passage of Proposition 209, minority businesses experienced a greater than 50% reduction of total awards and contracts on Caltrans projects.
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights has participated in amicus (friend of the court) briefings in all three of the cases now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.