Supreme Court Action: Banning Race Considerations in Michigan School Admissions and Fourth Amendment Traffic Stops

The Supreme Court issued an opinion today that upheld a voter initiative which amended the Michigan Constitution to forbid considering race as a factor for school admission.  This political decision effectively overturned Grutter v. Bolinger, 539 U.S. 306, as it applies to Michigan schools.  The Court, as typical in these kinds of cases, only managed to get a plurality for the rationale of the decision.

Justice Kennedy, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito, saw the case as whether Michigan voters had the power to consider race-based considerations in admissions and make a decision.  The Plurality states that States do have the power to enact such bans.  Justice Breyer writes in his opinion concurring in the judgment that the Constitution does not mandate nor ban the practice of considering racial factors in school admissions.

The Court distinguished this case from others where voter initiatives were struck down because they were motivated to disadvantage political rights held by minorities.  That motivation is not present in this case as Justice Kennedy notes that members of racial groups do not think alike or share the same interests.  Justice Scalia goes further in his concurrences and states that the respondent groups challenging the ban could never prove the vote was discriminatory.

The Court concluded that voter initiatives that settle difficult policy decisions are part of the ongoing debate of governance:

This case is not about how the debate about racial pref­erences should be resolved. It is about who may resolve it. There is no authority in the Constitution of the United States or in this Court’s precedents for the Judiciary to set aside Michigan laws that commit this policy determination to the voters. See Sailors v. Board of Ed. of County of Kent, 387 U. S. 105, 109 (1967) (“Save and unless the state, county, or municipal government runs afoul of a federally protected right, it has vast leeway in the man­agement of its internal affairs”). Deliberative debate on sensitive issues such as racial preferences all too often may shade into rancor. But that does not justify removing certain court-determined issues from the voters’ reach. Democracy does not presume that some subjects are either too divisive or too profound for public debate.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed.

I wonder how the petitioners in the California gay marriage case feel about this language.  Oh wait, that was decided on the proposition that they didn’t have standing to challenge the Ninth Circuit’s ruling that affirmed striking the provision banning gay marriage.

The case is Schuette v. BAMN (12-682).  Justice Kennedy announced the judgment of the Court and delivered the Plurality opinion and was joined by Chief Justice Robert as Justice Alito. Chief Justice Roberts filed a concurring opinion.   Justice Scalia filed an opinion concurring in the judgment and was joined by Justice Thomas.  Justice Breyer filed a concurring opinion in the judgment. Justice Sotomayor filed a dissenting opinion and was joined by Justices Ginsburg.  Justice Kagan took no part in the considera­tion or decision of the case.

There was one other opinion filed this morning.  That is the case of Prado Navarette v. California (12-9490).  The case concerns whether an anonymous tip to 911 about an individual’s driving behavior can trigger a warrantless stop of a vehicle.  Navarette, in this case, apparently ran another car off the road.  The driver of that car called 911 and reported the incident.  California police located the vehicle and executed a traffic stop.  The officer smelled marijuana and conducted a search of the vehicle.  The officer found 30 pounds of marijuana and arrested the occupants.

The defendants were convicted in California Superior Court and the California Appellate Court affirmed.  Both Courts rejected suppressing the evidence.  The California Supreme Court denied review.  The Supreme Court affirmed the conviction, holding that the stop did not violate the Fourth Amendment under the totality of the circumstances.

Anonymous tips alone normally do not demonstrate sufficient reliability to justify a traffic stop but can in certain circumstances.  The report came from an individual who was part of the incident.  She reported details of a specific vehicle and had an eyewitness perspective.  The 911 call came shortly after the incident occurred leaving little time to fabricate the incident.  The officer could conclude that the tip was reliable as the conduct described suggested the driver was impaired.  The officer did not see impaired conduct when trailing the truck, though that did not rule out reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle.

Justice Thomas, a man who rarely finds a conviction he would overturn, delivered the opinion of the Court and was joined by Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Kennedy, Breyer, and Alito.  Justice Scalia, in a shocking development, dissented from his good buddy and concluded that the stop and search violated the Fourth Amendment.  Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan joined his dissent. – Mark

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