Yesterday’s Supreme Court decision in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action is attracting a fair amount of attention in the news media. From an employment law perspective, the case likely will have little impact. In a decision drafted by Justice Kennedy, the Court held that states are free (in this circumstance, through a ballot referendum) to decide that they will not take race or gender into consideration in making admissions decisions to public universities. The Court’s decision did not affect the legality of voluntary affirmative action programs maintained by private employers or the federal government’s affirmative action rules. Indeed, coverage of the decision often treats all “affirmative action” as meaning either explicit quotas or overt consideration of race or gender in decision-making. However, the type of affirmative action carried out by private employers (except in cases where the affirmative action is ordered as a remedy for past discrimination) typically involves only increased efforts to reach out to underrepresented minorities and eliminate obstacles to their hiring and advancement. This type of affirmative action is likely to continue regardless of the increasing number of decisions and state laws limiting the use of quotas and preferences. The full Supreme Court’s decision in Schuette can be read here.
Supreme Court Rules on Affirmative Action