Legal news coverage was dominated this week by the Supreme Court Shuette decision, which upheld Michigan’s affirmative action ban for college admissions. Read a summary below of the Court’s decision along with a few other interesting opinions picked out by our writers this week.
Schuette v. Coal. Defend Affirmative Action, Integration & Immigration Rights, Unites States Supreme Court (4/22/14)
Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Education Law
After the Supreme Court decided that the University of Michigan’s undergraduate admissions plan’s use of race-based preferences violated the Equal Protection Clause, but that its law school admission plan’s limited use did not, Michigan voters adopted a new section of the state constitution (Proposal 2), prohibiting use of race-based preferences in the admissions process for state universities. The district court upheld Proposal 2, but the Sixth Circuit reversed, concluding that it violated Supreme Court precedent. The Supreme Court reversed. Justice Kennedy, with Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito, reasoned that the principle that consideration of race in admissions is permissible when certain conditions are met was not challenged; the issue was whether, and how, state voters may choose to prohibit consideration of such racial preferences. The decision by Michigan voters reflects an ongoing national dialogue; there was no infliction of a specific injury of the type at issue in cases cited by the Sixth Circuit. Individual liberty has constitutional protection, but the Constitution also embraces the right of citizens to act through a lawful electoral process, as Michigan voters did. Justices Scalia and Thomas stated that the question here, as in every case in which neutral state action is said to deny equal protection on account of race, is whether the challenged action reflects a racially discriminatory purpose. Stating that it did not, the Justices stated that the proposition that a facially neutral law may deny equal protection solely because it has a disparate racial impact “has been squarely and soundly rejected.” Justice Breyer agreed that the amendment is consistent with the Equal Protection Clause, but reasoned that the amendment only applies to, and forbids, race-conscious admissions programs that consider race solely in order to obtain the educational benefits of a diverse student body; the Constitution permits, but does not require, the use of that kind of race-conscious program. The ballot box, not the courts, is the instrument for resolving debates about such programs. This case does not involve a diminution of the minority’s ability to participate in the political process.
Read More: The Supreme Court Again Fractures Over Race
European Community v. RJR Nabisco, Inc., US 2nd Cir. (4/23/14)
Civil Procedure, Criminal Law, Injury Law, International Law
The European Community filed suit against RJR, alleging that RJR directed, managed, and controlled a global money-laundering scheme with organized crime groups in violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute, 18 U.S.C. 1961 et seq., laundered money through New York-based financial institutions and repatriated the profits of the scheme to the United States, and committed various common law torts in violation of New York state law. The court concluded that the district court erred in dismissing the federal and state law claims; the court disagreed with the district court’s conclusion that RICO cannot apply to a foreign enterprise or to extraterritorial conduct; the court concluded that, with respect to a number of offenses that constitute predicates for RICO liability and were alleged in this case, Congress had clearly manifested an intent that they apply extraterritorially; and, as to the other alleged offenses, the Complaint alleged sufficiently important domestic activity to come within RICO’s coverage. The court also concluded that the district court erred in ruling that the European Community’s participation as a plaintiff in this lawsuit destroyed complete diversity; the European Community is an “agency or instrumentality of a foreign state” under 28 U.S.C. 1603(b) and therefore, qualified as a “foreign state” for purposes of 28 U.S.C. 1332(a)(4); and its suit against “citizens of a State or of different States” came within the diversity jurisdiction. Accordingly, the court vacated and remanded for further proceedings.
Delva v. Continental Group, Inc., Florida Supreme Court (4/17/14)
Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Labor & Employment Law
Plaintiff filed a lawsuit against Defendant, her former employer, alleging that Defendant took adverse employment actions against her after she revealed that she was pregnant. The trial court dismissed Plaintiff’s lawsuit for failure to state a cause of action. The court of appeal affirmed, concluding that Florida law does not prohibit pregnancy discrimination in employment practices. The Supreme Court quashed the court of appeal’s decision and remanded with directions that the trial court reinstate Plaintiff’s complaint, holding that the provision in the Florida Civil Rights Act (FCRA) making it an unlawful employment practice for an employer to discriminate based on an individual’s sex includes discrimination based on pregnancy, which is “a natural condition and primary characteristic unique to the female sex.”