PACIFIC LEGAL FOUNDATION
Prop. 209 Imperiled
Special interests are back and hungry for racial spoils
[Stephen R. McCutcheon] 8/15/03
Seven years ago, California
voters emphatically endorsed the principle of equal treatment
for all, regardless
of race or sex,
by passing Proposition 209. It amended the California Constitution
to prohibit the state from discriminating or granting preferential
treatment on the basis of color or gender in public schooling,
hiring and contracting. As the ballot pamphlet explained, Prop.
209 was drafted in response to the fact that "special interests
hijacked the civil rights movement," and that "instead
of equality, governments imposed quotas, preferences, and set-asides."
the "hijackers" are back; they're trying
to return us to the days when government could play favorites
by race. The California Legislature has passed Assembly Bill
703, which would go far toward gutting Prop. 209. The bill is
on the governor's desk, so the decision of whether to defy the
voters' will and bring back a system of racial spoils now rests
with Gray Davis.
AB 703 would undermine
Prop. 209 by playing word games with "discrimination" and "preferences." The
California Supreme Court recognized the plain-as-day definition
of those terms when, in a key decision supporting Prop. 209,
the Court said that "discriminate" means "to show
partiality (in favor of) or prejudice (against)" and that "preferential" means
giving "priority or advantage to one person over others." AB
703 would stand those definitions on their heads. It would narrow
the definition of prohibited government "discrimination" so
as to permit "special measures" by government for "securing
adequate advancement of certain racial or ethnic groups."
other words, it would take us back to the old policies of identifying
individuals primarily by their membership in racial
groups, and showing bias toward some groups through quotas,
preferences, and set asides.
What a setback this
would be. In supporting Prop. 209, former Gov. Pete Wilson
got it right: "There is no
place in California for laws that classify our rich mosaic of
people by their race,
ethnicity, or gender, rather than their talents, or that define
their recruitment or employment opportunities based on their
skin color or chromosomes."
If politicians succeed in eviscerating
Prop. 209, they will do a disservice not just to the 4.7 million
voters who supported
it at the polls in 1996, but to basic principles of fairness.
The more racially diverse California becomes, the more essential
it is that we look beyond people's color and treat everyone
as an individual, for the sake of social harmony and progress.
sum, the pols who refuse to stop their rearguard fight against
Prop. 209 are discriminating -- against justice and against
the public good.
Stephen R. McCutcheon is an attorney with Pacific Legal Foundation
(www.pacificlegal.org), a public-interest law firm that is the
primary defender of Proposition 209 in the California courts.
Pacific Legal Foundation