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Nation/World

March 26, 2013

High court takes on a new affirmative action case

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court’s decision to hear a new case from Michigan on the politically charged issue of affirmative action offers an intriguing hint that the justices will not use a separate challenge already pending from Texas for a broad ruling bringing an end to the consideration of race in college admissions.

To be sure, the two cases involve different legal issues. The University of Texas dispute, with arguments already completed and a ruling possible soon, centers on the use of race to fill some slots in the school’s freshman classes. The Michigan case asks whether a voter-approved ban on affirmative action in college admissions can itself violate the Constitution.

But the broadest possible outcome in the current Texas case — overruling the court’s 2003 decision that allows race as a factor in college admissions — would mean an end to affirmative action in higher education and render the new Michigan lawsuit irrelevant.

If the justices are planning to overrule that earlier decision, “then I would think they would hold this case,” the new one, and order lower courts to review it based on the Texas decision, said Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the law school at the University of California at Irvine. He is representing students and faculty members in the Michigan case.

At the October argument in Fisher v. University of Texas, the court’s conservative justices sounded as if they were ready to impose new limits on the use of race in college admissions. More than five months have passed without a decision, which is not unusual in the court’s most contentious cases.

The appeal in the Michigan case comes from state Attorney General Bill Schuette, following a ruling from the sharply divided 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.

The appeals court, by an 8-7 vote, found fault with the 2006 constitutional amendment to outlaw “preferential treatment” on the basis of race and other factors in college admissions. The provision also applies to affirmative action in public employment and government contracting, but those issues are not being challenged.

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