- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 23, 2014

BOSTON (AP) - Gov. Deval Patrick called the Supreme Court’s ruling allowing voters to outlaw the use of race as a factor in college admissions “very troubling” Wednesday and said his administration is looking to see whether there are any implications for Massachusetts.

In their ruling, the court voted 6-2 Tuesday to uphold a voter-approved change to the Michigan Constitution that forbids the state’s public colleges to take race into account in deciding which students to accept.

Patrick called the decision “convoluted,” noting there were separate opinions written by different justices, including an impassioned dissent by Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

“I guess the bottom line is that by referendum you can insert discrimination into the constitution or something like that, and obviously that’s very, very troubling to me,” Patrick told reporters Wednesday.

Patrick said his administration is trying to figure out whether there is any potential fallout in Massachusetts from the ruling, which is seen as a blow to affirmative action programs.

“We’re trying to figure that out, but it’s not an easy decision to decipher,” Patrick said.

The ruling bolsters similar voter-approved initiatives banning affirmative action in education in California and Washington state. Other states have adopted laws or issued executive orders to bar race-conscious admissions policies.

Patrick said that while he hasn’t studied the legal arguments in the case, the decision and the push to end affirmative action programs are disappointing.

“It just seems to me so unlike Americans to leave things we say are important entirely to chance,” he said.

In the University of Massachusetts’ five-campus system, admissions departments conduct individualized assessments that look at a mix of factors when considering someone for admission.

Those factors include a student’s high school grade point average, whether they grew up in a city compared to rural and suburban areas of the state and whether they are from underrepresented neighborhoods and high schools.

Admissions officials also factor in whether English isn’t a student’s first language and whether they would be the first person in the family to go to college.

The state’s nine state universities have adopted a plan stating “equal opportunity, diversity and affirmative action programs shall be viewed as an integral part of the mission and purpose” of the universities including in admissions policies.

In the ruling, Justice Anthony Kennedy said that voters in Michigan chose to eliminate racial preferences - presumably because such a system could give rise to race-based resentment - and that nothing in the Constitution or the court’s prior cases gives judges the authority to undermine the election results.

In a 59-page dissent, Sotomayor said the decision trampled on the rights of minorities, even though the Michigan amendment was adopted by voters, arguing that “democratically approved legislation can oppress minority groups.”