In a  blow to affirmative action policies nationwide, the Supreme Court on Tuesday (April 22) upheld a 2006 Michigan voter initiative banning race-conscious admissions policies in public universities. Writing for the majority in the 6-2 decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy argued that state voters should have the authority to decide the issue themselves. In an impassioned dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor — whose own education was impacted by affirmative action policies — insisted the state’s ban would infringe on the rights of minorities. “We ought not sit back and wish away, rather than confront, the racial inequality that exists in our society,” she wrote. In the eight states (including California) that have imposed similar bans, black and Hispanic enrollment at public universities has dropped, in some cases significantly.

The ruling —  the latest in a long string of challenges to race-conscious admissions and hiring practices — doesn’t outlaw affirmative action policies elsewhere, but it does give other states the green light to enact similar bans.

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Matthew Green

Matthew Green runs KQED’s News Education Project, an online resource for educators and the general public to help explain the news. The project lives at

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