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schuette

My former Manhattan Institute colleague tackles the recent racial-preferences case (earlier here and here) with the incisiveness and clarity for which she is well known [City Journal]

Schuette has been ridiculed by preference opponents for posing the question of whether the equal protection of the laws — i.e., race neutrality — violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection. But even BAMN did not have the temerity to make so illogical a claim. Rather than arguing that a ban on racial preferences was unconstitutional per se, BAMN was forced to take up an arcane line of Supreme Court precedent that turned its complaint against Proposal 2 essentially into a quasi-voting-rights claim. It was the locus of decision-making, not the content of Proposal 2, that was unconstitutional, BAMN alleged. The proponents of Proposal 2 had denied minorities the ability to participate meaningfully in the political process, the group said, by resolving the question of racial preferences through a state ballot initiative, rather than at the university level.

This odd line of attack derived from the Supreme Court’s little-known “political process” doctrine, stemming in part from a 1982 case, Washington v. Seattle School Dist. No. 1. The Seattle City Council had passed a law requiring school busing to integrate local schools. In response, Washington state voters passed an initiative banning busing as a response to anything other than deliberate school segregation. Hearing a challenge to that initiative, the Supreme Court ruled that by moving the question of busing from a local to a state level, busing opponents had erected barriers to minorities’ right to political participation and had made it harder for them to defend their interests in the political arena, therefore denying them the equal protection of the laws.

The political-process doctrine is a jurisprudential disaster, made up out of thin air and shot through with unsupportable empirical assumptions — such as that higher levels of governmental organization inherently disadvantage minorities. The civil rights movement, after all, embraced the idea that the federal government was a better protector of minority rights than states or localities. Anti-preference voter initiatives failed at different stages in Missouri and Colorado, belying the claim that a voter referendum is stacked against minorities. Moreover, it’s preposterous to assert as a legal matter that a legitimate method of lawmaking suddenly becomes constitutionally infirm if a court deems its subject matter to be “racial.” The political-process doctrine is simply an ad hoc, desperate means of overturning on process grounds laws that a court couldn’t otherwise invalidate on their merits. And its application to the Michigan case produced several unintended consequences for preference supporters.

She also has some interesting speculation as to why the Court plurality might have chosen to keep the political process doctrine “on life support” rather than overrule it forthrightly. Read the whole thing here.

Yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court, over two dissents, ruled that the voters of Michigan were within their rights under the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause to enact an amendment to the state constitution barring racial preference in public university admissions. (Earlier here, here, etc.) Justice Kennedy wrote a plurality opinion for three Justices, while Justice Scalia, joined by Justice Thomas, Justice Breyer, and Chief Justice Roberts wrote separate concurring opinions. Justice Sotomayor dissented, joined by Justice Ginsburg, and Justice Kagan was recused. Both sides maintained that the core controversy was not over whether Michigan was obliged to keep racial preferences as such, but rather over whether the state’s way of banning them (through voter constitutional amendment) had fallen afoul of the Court’s holding in earlier cases that the Equal Protection Clause requires that the political process itself not be arranged in ways unfavorable to minority interests.

I sent out tweets and retweets summarizing highlights of the Roberts, Scalia, Sotomayor, and plurality opinions and reprint them here, earliest first (starting with the Roberts and Scalia opinions).

More in a second post; and Hans Bader has an extensive analysis, including implications for costly preferences in public contracting.

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October 10 roundup

by Walter Olson on October 10, 2014

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Last week Cato held its annual Constitution Day celebrating the publication of the new 2013-14 Cato Supreme Court Review, with articles from such contributors as Roger Pilon, David Bernstein, Eric Rassbach, Andrew Pincus, Richard Epstein, and P.J. O’Rourke. They discuss most of the big and a few of the not-so-big cases of the past term, including Hobby Lobby, Canning, Schuette, Bond, McCutcheon, and Harris v. Quinn. The panel above (also available as video and podcast download) looks forward to the upcoming October term; it’s moderated by the review’s editor, Ilya Shapiro, with panelists Michael Carvin, Tom Goldstein, and Richard Wolf. The review concludes with an essay on the same general subject by Miguel Estrada and Ashley Boizelle.

This year, the contents of the review are available for immediate download (although we also encourage buying hard copies, of course.) As I’ve said while singing its praises before, it’s distinguished from conventional law reviews not only by its Madisonian point of view, and by its extreme speediness (published only three or so months after the conclusion of the Court’s last term) but also by its unusual readability and style, pitched to intelligent readers whether or not they are specialists in the law.

  • Boston’s North End, the home-as-one’s-castle doctrine, and how we got the Fourth Amendment [Ted Widmer, Globe]
  • NYT sniffs at Origination Clause as basis for ObamaCare challenge, but many framers of Constitution saw it as vital [Trevor Burrus, Forbes; Ilya Shapiro; four years ago on another Origination Clause episode]
  • Justice Scalia, concurring in Schuette, knocks the fabled Carolene Products footnote down a peg [Michael Schearer]
  • SCOTUS lets stand New Jersey’s very extreme gun control law. Was it serious about reviving the Second Amendment? [Ilya Shapiro]
  • Didn’t link this earlier: Kenneth Anderson discusses his excellent Cato Supreme Court Review article on Kiobel, the Alien Tort case [Opinio Juris]
  • Kurt Lash guestblogs on 14th Amendment privileges and immunities clause [Volokh Conspiracy]
  • Supreme Court reviving law/equity distinction? (Hope so.) [Samuel Bray, SSRN via Solum]

A few more notes on the case already covered yesterday in tweet form:

Scalia sets the stage beautifully: “[In this] jurisprudential twilight zone… we confront a frighteningly bizarre question: does the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment forbid what its text plainly requires?” The drama, however, is not destined to play out on that rhetorical stage, since all eight Justices, even Sotomayor and Ginsburg, claim to believe that the Equal Protection issue is only whether Michigan citizens chose a constitutionally valid method by which to end preferences.

To me, this much increased the interest of the case. The constitutionality of racial preferences as such has been thrashed out for years in so many high-profile Court decisions that anyone who cares has had ample chance to think about the issue. There has been far less attention to the unprincipled, un-administrable, substance-masquerading-as-procedure Reitman/Hunter/Seattle line of cases, by which the Court occasionally and selectively intervenes to reverse democratically arrived-at processes when they come out with the “wrong” policy answer. Scalia and Thomas are ready to overrule this bad line of cases directly; the plurality, for better or worse, are not (yet) willing to do so, and instead limit the cases’ reach in ways that neither Scalia nor Sotomayor find logically compelling.

Sotomayor’s mantra “Race matters” is likely to thrill some readers — it has already been in use for a while as a catch-phrase in academia and elsewhere — but as a device for organizing a legal opinion, it’s at best … imprecise. All the other Justices agree that race matters, but disagree on how. As Ilya Somin and David Bernstein point out at Volokh Conspiracy, Sotomayor also gerrymanders “race” in a way convenient to her purposes, using it to include Hispanic-Americans (who aren’t a race) while breathing not one word about Asian-Americans (a more genuine racial classification whose situation of being both historically disadvantaged *and* discriminated against in university admissions cries out for recognition). “Race matters,” indeed. More thoughts: Roger Pilon and Ilya Shapiro, Cato. (adapted newer version at Cato at Liberty, and thanks for SCOTUSBlog mention).

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EEOC roundup

by Walter Olson on March 18, 2014

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  • SCOTUS to hear case of Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, First Amendment challenge to state laws regulating truth of political speech [IJ/Cato amicus cert brief]
  • Groups of law professors file amicus briefs in Halliburton Co. v. Erica P. John Fund, Inc. arguing that retreat from “fraud on the market” theory is consistent with modern scholarship on capital market efficiency [John Elwood] and sound statutory construction [Elwood, Bainbridge]
  • Behind the Michigan affirmative action plan in Schuette, including colorful background of litigant BAMN (“By Any Means Necessary”) [Gail Heriot, Federalist Society "Engage"]
  • Court dismisses Mulhall v. UNITE HERE (challenge to employer cooperation agreement with union as “thing of value”) as improvidently granted [Jack Goldsmith, On Labor, earlier]
  • Affordable Care Act saga has taken toll on rule of law [Timothy and Christina Sandefur, Regulation]
  • Lol-worthy new Twitter account, @clickbaitSCOTUS, with content like “The nine words no appellate advocate wants to read” [re: Madigan v. Levin]
  • Drug War vs. Constitution at Supreme Court, 1928: Drug War won by only one vote and you might not predict who wrote the most impassioned dissent [my Cato post]

Josh Blackman on yesterday’s oral argument in Schuette v. Coalition To Defend Affirmative Action.

Supreme Court roundup

by Walter Olson on August 30, 2013

  • Now with more detailed program descriptions: reserve your seat now for Cato’s 12th annual Constitution Day Sept. 17 in Washington, D.C.;
  • White House keeps losing SCOTUS cases 9-0, and there might be a lesson in that [Ilya Somin/USA Today, more]
  • “Another big term for amicus curiae briefs at the high court” [ABA Journal] “The Chief’s dissent reads over long stretches like something from the Cato Institute” [Michael Greve, Liberty Law Blog, on the administrative law case City of Arlington v. FCC, which was in fact one of the three cases where Cato's amicus position lost last term]
  • Ilya Shapiro on misconceptions about last term’s Shelby County case on voting rights [USA Today] and on the pending Schuette affirmative action case from Michigan [Cato]
  • “I count myself an originalist too.” — Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg [CAC] Evaluating Ginsburg’s claim that the present Court is unusually activist [Jonathan Adler]
  • In Bond v. U.S., the treaty power case, Solicitor General urges high court not to overrule Missouri v. Holland [Nicholas Quinn Rosenkranz, more, earlier]
  • Cato seeks certiorari in cy pres (class action slush fund) case involving Facebook [amicus brief filed in Marek v. Lane, Ilya Shapiro]