Supreme Court to hear Michigan affirmative action case

(CBS News) The Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday in an affirmative action case. It's a challenge to a Michigan law that says race cannot be a factor in college admissions.

The Court in the past has looked skeptically at using racial preferences in college admissions, but it has stopped short of outlawing it completely. Now the justices are going to have to decide whether affirmative action bans passed by voters in states across the country violate the Constitution.

How affirmative action divides two justices

After the Supreme Court refused in 2003 to end affirmative action programs at the University of Michigan Law School voters approved Proposal 2, amending the state constitution to prohibit admissions programs that "give preferential treatment to" or "discriminate against" people based on their race.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said voters wanted to take race out of decision making.

"It's an expression that in Michigan we think it's wrong, fundamentally wrong, to treat people differently based on their race or the color of their skin," said Schuette.

Michigan is not alone. Five other states, California, Washington, Arizona, Nebraska, Oklahoma, have similar laws outlawing the use of racial preferences.

However, supporters of affirmative action say Proposal 2 amounts to racial discrimination, by rigging the political process against minorities. The federal appeals court agreed and struck down Proposal 2 saying it made it too hard for minorities to change policies that affect them.

"What Prop 2 has done is allow the majority to take away the policy that the university has for hearing everybody's voice. So essentially the will of the majority has silenced the minority," said Rosie Ceballo.

Ceballo and her husband Matthew Countryman are professors at the University of Michigan. They said the ban has cut minority enrollment by a third and had a negative effect in the classroom.

"As a group they feel less a part of things, less able to participate in the give and take of the institution," said Countryman.

Opponents of affirmative action say the way to increase minority enrollment is to improve opportunities for people before they get to college, at the high school and junior high school levels, but supporters say that doesn't work

If the Supreme Court upholds Michigan's ban many other states across the country may pass similar laws.