Affirmative Action: California and the Supreme Court

“Supreme Court guts affirmative action in college admissions,” headlined Politico on June 29. In effect, affirmative action means racial preferences. Few, if any, reports recalled that California eliminated racial preferences 27 years ago, not by a court decision but by a vote of the people. 

The California Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI), Proposition 209 on the November 5, 1996 ballot, eliminated racial preferences in state education, employment, and contracting. The measure, approved by a margin of 54 to 46 percent, did not end affirmative action. State universities could still help students on an economic basis. What they cannot do is discriminate based on race and ethnicity.

Such discrimination had been common practice even before the 1978 Bakke case and continued long after. The people responded with Proposition 209, and the disaster the racial preference forces predicted never came about.

As Thomas Sowell noted in Intellectuals and Race, declines in minority enrollment at UCLA and Berkeley have been offset by increases at other UC campuses. More importantly, the number of African-American and Hispanic students graduating from the UC system has increased, including a 55 percent increase in those graduating in four years with a GPA of 3.5 or higher.

After the ban on preferences took effect, according to Sowell, blacks and Hispanics with degrees in science, technology, math, and engineering rose 51 percent. The number of doctorates earned by such students rose 25 percent. Even so, politicians and administrators have continued to target Proposition 209. 

The 2020 Proposition 16 would have repealed CCRI, but voters rejected Prop 16 by a 56-44 marginAs CalMatters reports, legislators are now shifting strategies. The Assembly Constitutional Amendment 7, reportedly slated for the 2024 ballot, would “allow state agencies to send the governor a waiver request to avoid Proposition 209’s restrictions, as long as the exception is based on scholarly research.”

While 2024 awaits, state politicians and bureaucrats have extended preference mandates to private businesses. In September 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 979, mandating that publicly traded companies place members of “underrepresented communities” on their boards. 

Meanwhile, as the U.S. Supreme Court eliminates racial preferences, California politicians strive to restore them in violation of their own law. Once a leader in civil rights, California now stands at the forefront of institutional racism. 

K. Lloyd Billingsley is a Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute and a columnist at American Greatness.
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