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Justice Sotomayor Defends Affirmative Action in Colleges

Justice Sonia Sotomayor defends affirmative action as a factor in college admissions, after Supreme Court majority upholds Michigan ban on its use.
Image: Sonia Sotomayor
File photo of Justice Sonia Sotomayor.Jessica Hill / AP

On Tuesday in a 6-2 ruling,the Supreme Court upheld the state of Michigan's ban on using race as a factor in college admissions.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor read her dissent aloud from the bench; she and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg disagreed from the majority opinion. Justice Elena Kagan did not take part in the case since she had worked on this issue when she was at the Justice Department.

"We cannot wish away racial inequality, stated Sotomayor in her defense of affirmative action policies as a factor in college admissions. She said that "without checks, democratically approved legislation can oppress minority groups."

"Diversity ensures that the next generation moves beyond the stereotypes, the assumptions, and the superficial perceptions that students coming from less heterogeneous communities may harbor, consciously or not, about people who do not look like them," stated Sotomayor.

In her book "My Beloved World," the Puerto Rican Justice said affirmative action served to "create the conditions whereby students from disadvantaged backgrounds could be brought to the starting line of a race many were unaware was even being run.”

In 2006, the majority of Michigan voters approved an amendment banning affirmative action in the state. This came after a controversial case where two white students had sued the University of Michigan after being denied admission. They said the University's policies favored minority applicants. The University of Michigan had argued universities could consider race as a one of several factors to achieve a more diverse student body, but lost the case before the Supreme Court in 2003.

On Tuesday, the majority in the Supreme Court said their ruling upholding the ban was not about the merits of affirmative action but about the process by which a state can ban it.