Affirmative Action Ban Again Under Fire in California

The state of California, which has banned public colleges from considering applicants’ race when making admission decisions for the past 13 years, is once again rethinking that decision in light of a lawsuit. A panel of judges for the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals listened to arguments on Monday from those who oppose Proposition 209, in which California’s voters made it illegal for public higher education institutions and other public employers and contractors to consider race, ethnicity, or gender when making admissions or hiring decisions, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. The current lawsuit challenges the portion of the proposition that concerns higher education.

Supporters of affirmative action in California argued that the state’s most prestigious colleges and professional schools had seen a drastic drop in the number of black, Latino, and Native American students, the article noted. UC Berkeley, for instance, reports that its student population is 1% Native American, 3.5% black, 15% Latino, 30% white, and 48% Asian, the article stated, and these percentages are not reflective of the actual demographics of California, opponents of Proposition 209 argued. However, proponents of Proposition 209 argued that the initiative increases fairness by not permitting anyone to be discriminated against on the basis of their race or gender. The proposition makes hiring and admissions procedures race-neutral, supporters argue.

While this is not the first time opponents of Proposition 209 have tried to overturn it, this time, supporters of affirmative action believe they have new ammunition in their battle. This includes recent court rulings such as that of the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003 that the University of Michigan Law School could consider race when making admissions decisions with the goal of fostering diversity, and the ruling of a panel of judges from the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals that overturned Michigan’s affirmative action ban, the article points out. Affirmative action in California also has support from Gov. Jerry Brown.

Opponents were also ready with fresh arguments. While the proposition makes it illegal to consider race and gender, universities can still give other special groups, such as military veterans, preferential treatment in admissions, argued Deputy Attorney General Antonette Cordero, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. However, the arguments did not appear to shift the mindset of the appeals panel, who indicated that they would support the ruling of a previous appeals court who upheld the proposition in 1997, the Chronicle article noted.

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