The ruling on affirmative action in Michigan did not come as too great a surprise, but it's nevertheless one of the year's big cases at the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court upheld a Michigan voter initiative Tuesday banning racial preferences in admissions to the state's public universities.
The justices ruled 6-2 Tuesday that the affirmative action ban, approved by voters in 2006, allowed Michigan the right to prohibit public colleges and universities from using race, ethnicity or gender as a factor for admissions.
In his majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy said the court did not have the authority to throw out the election results of the voter-approved initiative. Those joining the majority opinion -- Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas -- stressed, however, that the ruling did not address the constitutionality of affirmative action itself.
And that distinction is extremely important when evaluating the scope of the ruling.
"This case is not about how the debate about racial preferences should be resolved," Kennedy wrote for the majority. "It is about who may resolve it. There is no authority in the Constitution of the United States or in this court's precedents for the judiciary to set aside Michigan laws that commit this policy determination to the voters."
In other words, affirmative action in college admissions hasn't been banned. Indeed, the role of considering race in admissions policies remains in place -- except in states that choose to prohibit affirmative action policies.
The ruling will be especially relevant in states that have chosen to ban affirmative action -- msnbc's Amanda Sakuma noted the policies have been curtailed in Arizona, California, Florida, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, and the state of Washington -- while also signaling to other states that they can now do the same without fear of judicial intervention.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a stinging dissent.