Not since the tumultuous 1960s have U.S. ideals of equality been more closely contested. Legal analysts say a Supreme Court holding of a colorblind Constitution, either as a matter of law or practical effect, could begin to emerge in two rulings on voting rights and affirmative action due out by late June. A third ruling in the Michigan affirmative action case will come next term.
The five conservative justices who make up a majority could overturn the 2003 opinion or take a less dramatic step. The court may opt for tighter restrictions that make it difficult for colleges to consider race or rule narrowly that in a situation like Texas, its unique top 10 percent plan is enough on its own to achieve diversity.
In the court’s other racial case, a conservative majority may declare the 1965 Voting Rights Act constitutionally flawed for its focus on racism in the South but leave it up to lawmakers to sort it out.
The court could also find a less sweeping, more technical way of deciding the voting rights case, much as they did four years ago. Back then, Chief Justice John Roberts suggested Congress should update the law to reflect improved conditions in the South. Congress hasn’t done so.
Prominent legal bloggers are already warning of sharp public reaction, especially if justices strike down federal voting protections.
“If the court rules in a conservative direction, this will be a pivotal year with regard to race in the Constitution and a year that could have a devastating effect on racial diversity,” adds Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California, Irvine law school.