California’s 1996 ban on affirmative action policies will be tested at the ballot box in November as voters will decide whether governments and public colleges and universities can consider race in their hiring and admissions decisions.
California banned affirmative action in 1996, when 55 percent of voters approved a constitutional amendment that made it illegal to give preferential treatment based on race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin.
On Wednesday, the state Senate voted 30-10 to repeal that amendment, although voters must approve in November before it can become law.
The 1996 amendment came at a time when Republicans controlled the state and was just two years removed from a separate voter-approved amendment — eventually overturned by the courts — that would have banned illegal immigrants from using public schools and other state services.
Seven other states eventually followed California’s lead on banning affirmative action policies: Washington, Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, Arizona, New Hampshire and Oklahoma.
Critics say disparities exist in government contracting and college admissions, arguing that the ban allows racial biases without programs and policies designed to correct it.
That includes the offices of state lawmakers, according to state Sen. Steven Bradford, who called out some of his colleagues who he says “have never hired a black person, and probably never will.”
“We’re race conscious in everything we do,” said Bradford, who is black. “Quit lying to yourselves and saying race is not a factor.”
Republicans scoffed at repealing a law that they say bans racial discrimination, with Republican Sen. Melissa Melendez saying she believes “this is the least racist country on the planet.”
But the most vocal opposition has come from the state’s Asian community. Some have said they fear that allowing race to be considered in college admissions will hurt them at the state’s elite public universities, where Asian-Americans make up a higher percentage of the enrollment than they do of the state as a whole.
“The answer to discrimination is not more discrimination,” according to state Sen. Ling Ling Chang, a Republican who is of Taiwanese descent.
The ban has survived multiple legal challenges and legislative efforts to change or repeal it. But this year, supporters have been boosted by the nationwide protests over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
The state Assembly has passed a bill that would create a committee to study giving reparations to black people because of slavery.
On Wednesday, the state Senate approved another proposed constitutional amendment that would let people vote while on parole for felony convictions — an issue supporters say disproportionately impacts minorities.
Some Asian American groups are already preparing a campaign against lifting the ban on affirmative action.
Crystal Lu, president of the Silicon Valley Chinese Association, said about 80 organizations have come together and raised about $130,000 within 24 hours of launching their fundraising campaign.
“If the ability to be judged by your merit and not by your race is taken away, the fundamental attraction of this country is eroded,” she said. “It’s that fear of being judged by where you are from.”
The Western Journal has reviewed this Associated Press story and may have altered it prior to publication to ensure that it meets our editorial standards.
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