Earlier this year I posted a blog about the case the Supreme Court was set to hear concerning Michigan's ban on affirmative action, pointing out what I viewed as some significant flaws in the plaintiffs' arguments. Moreover, I analyzed the issues in a more thorough manner in a recent law journal article here. On October 15th of this year, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in that case, under the title Schuette, Attny. Gen of Mich., v. BAMN, et al. Central to the BAMN case is the assertion that Michigan's Proposal 2, which amended the state constitution to outlaw affirmative action, inter alia, at the state universities, set up a different political process for lobbying for racial preferences than the process for lobbying preferences based on alumni status, athletic ability, etc. Thus, under the Hunter/Seattle line of cases, Proposal 2 arguably violates the federal Equal Protection Clause.
As is often the case, both listening to the oral arguments, and reading the transcripts thereof, provides the observer with a very brief glance at what the attorneys presenting consider the most important aspects of the case. Actually, what the transcripts probably show is the issues that the competing attorneys think are both central to the issue, and on which certain Justices are still persuadable. They only have a brief time, the issues are very complex, and so choices of time and energy must be made.
The written briefs, along with briefs from amici, lay out the arguments in more detail. They show that Justice Kennedy, once again, is perceived as the swing vote, as arguments in the briefs are clearly designed to convince him, not so subtly, often reminding him of his own words from other cases. But despite this strategy, Shuette, who as Michigan's Attorney General was defending Proposal 2, spent most of his time answering questions by Justices Ginsburg & Sotomayor. In contrast, and perhaps not surprisingly, the attorneys for the two defendant groups were grilled pretty thoroughly by Justices Roberts, Scalia, and Alito. With all the usual cautionary caveats about predicting what the Court will do, the interactions with Justices Kennedy and Breyer may be most relevant. Both seemed somewhat skeptical of the defendants' arguments. Obviously, only time will tell how the Court will rule. But based on the arguments expounded in the oral arguments, it would be difficult if not impossible for the Court to rule in favor of the defendants. Otherwise, as Justice Scalia suggested, the federal Equal protection clause would contradict itself.