Passage of Proposition 209 Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Proposition #209 in California

The preponderance of evidence suggests that the passage of Proposition #209 had no significant impact on government or business..." In California, is likely two-thirds true, albeit it's difficult to quantify given the dearth of statistical evidence currently available. Indeed, there are examples, cited in this paper, of "business as usual" in California regarding affirmative action; and, unlike the government and business sectors, there is explicit statistical evidence that "state educational services" have been impacted in a dramatic way by Proposition #209.

Background on Proposition #209

What was Proposition #209 designed to accomplish in California?

The language of the original Proposition #209 (public initiative) sounded like civil rights legislation from the 1960s, and was intended to sound that way; but according to detractors, the law sought to reverse civil rights gains from that era. The title, "Prohibition against Discrimination or Preferential Treatment by State and other Public Entities," had an anti-discrimination ring to it, and one of the #209 campaign themes, played heavily on television, was the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. line, that people should be judged by "the content of their character," not by "the color of their skin." But what all the slogans and even the title of the legislation actually meant was an end to many affirmative action programs in California. The Proposition's main bullet point: "Prohibits the state, local governments, districts, public universities, colleges and schools, and other government instrumentalities from discriminating against or giving preferential treatment to any individual or group in public employment, public education, or public contracting on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin."

Proposition #209 has two supporting clauses: one, where there are affirmative action-based guidelines attached to federal funds, those guidelines shall be permitted to continue in place so as not to lose the federal monies; and two, where federal law with reference to affirmative action in federal agencies within California comes into play, federal law is exempt from Proposition #209.

Who was against Proposition #209 and Why?

According to the California Secretary of State's "Argument Against Proposition #209," church groups, medical organizations, civil rights and particularly women's groups (such as the California League of Women Voters) opposed #209. In the case of females, opposition was firm because #209 sought to eliminate equal opportunity programs such as: a) tutoring and mentoring for woman and minority students; b) affirmative action that encourages the hiring and promotion of qualified women and minorities; c) outreach and recruitment programs encouraging applicants for government jobs & contracts; d) programs designed to encourage girls to study and pursue careers in math and science.

The measure "permits state government to deny women opportunities in public employment, education, and contracting, solely based on their gender," according to the Secretary of State's documents against #209.

The independent analysis of #209 (written for the state by a non-partisan "Legislative Analyst") also mentioned that #209 affects funding for public schools, because of the elimination of programs like affirmative action hiring projects "would result in savings to the state and local governments." Further, "the measure could affect up to $75 million in state spending in public schools and community colleges," and up to $125 million for all state and local programs which were then geared for minority and women opportunities. [Note: current data on the actual outcome of those projections is not available.]

Who was behind Proposition #209 and Why?

Ward Connerly is founder and chairman of the American Civil Rights Institute, a national, non-profit organization aimed at eliminating affirmative action programs. (Once again, one sees the shrewd positioning of "civil rights" language in Connerly's imagery.) Connerly, who is legally categorized as "African-American" - vigorously and passionately opposes all "racial and gender preferences." Some pundits from the press, noting Connerly is black, believed his selection as an appointee to the University of California Board of Regents (by Republican governor Pete Wilson in 1995), was designed to remove any notion that Connerly was just another white man trying to eliminate "raced-based" opportunities for blacks and Latinos. Whether that was true or not, Connerly has used various studies to show that affirmative action costs the taxpayer (especially "white" taxpayers, who overwhelmingly supported #209) big money: to wit, a 1996 study by the conservative Claremont Institute found that "racial favoritism" by governments in California costs as much as $677 million.

Meanwhile, on July 20, 1995, following Connerly's lead, a majority of the Regents voted to end the University's use of race as a means for admissions, and soon after, under his leadership, the campaign for Proposition #209 successfully obtained more than 1 million signatures and qualified for the November 1996 ballot. California voters passed Proposition 209 into law, 54% to 46%. In 1998, Connerly led a similar anti-affirmative action campaign to victory in Washington State; and in 2003 he is working on a similar-themed measure in Michigan.

Looking at Proposition #54 helps one better understand Proposition #209

Meantime, the latest Connerly brainchild, Proposition #54, is on the October, 2003 ballot in California as a planned follow-up to #209; #54 is called, again using language that sounds like it is correcting social wrongs, "the Racial Privacy Initiative." The pro-Proposition #54 Web site claims that if it passes, it will "do many things: save our state budget over $10 million, end government's preferential treatment based on race, and junk a 17th-century racial classification system that has no place in 21st-century America." And the short version of #54 reads: "The state shall not classify any individual, by race, ethnicity, color or national origin in the operation of public education, public contracting, or public employment."

The official Prop. #54 Web site continues: "The California Constitution forbids state government from discriminating against or granting preferential treatment to any citizen based on race. Therefore, since government has no reason to classify persons by race, why should it even ask us for the data? Like religion, marital status or sexual orientation, race should become a private matter that is no business of government's. Think how refreshing it would be to throw out the entire system of checking little boxes." Yes, those daunting and time-consuming little boxes on applications - what an exhilarating, liberating feeling it will be for millions of Californians to eschew checking those little boxes under "African-American" or "Hispanic" or "Other." But seriously, one notes the sly language which promotes kind of a "get government off our backs" agenda, and wonders if the public will be swayed. Meantime, not all groups in California think #54 is such a good idea.

The American Civil Liberties Union - and other opponents - alludes to it as an "Information ban." "Proposition 54, the 'Racial Privacy Initiative,' has nothing to do with privacy and everything to do with obscuring crucial information," the ACLU states. "At the heart of Connerly's plan is an almost complete ban on state and local agencies compiling any information on race or ethnicity. It would ban critical information that helps fight chronic diseases like breast cancer, prevents hate crimes and domestic violence, and combats discrimination."

It's called the Racial Privacy Initiative, but it actually seeks to keep racism private," says Yvette Felarca, a national organizer for By Any Means Necessary (BAMN).

She continues: Proposition #54 "provides a cover for the continuation of white privilege and inequality in California when it comes to, for instance, enrollment at the state's flagship public universities."

In agreement with Felarca's "providing a cover" assertions is Dr. Erwin Chemerinsky, the Sydney M. Irmas Professor of Public Interest Law, Legal Ethics, and Political Science at the University of Southern California. Writing on the CNN Web site (Aug. 22, 2003), Chemerinsky argues that "the Initiative is designed in part to prevent studies showing the damaging effects of eliminating affirmative action - and thus keep voters from reinstituting affirmative action in California," which he claims is "undemocratic - voters have the right to cast informed votes."

Chemerinsky also states that if Proposition #54 were to pass, it would interfere "with the government's ability to track race and ethnicity-based hate crimes; to gather data about numerous medical conditions that disproportionately effect particular racial or ethnic groups." Adding to that observation is Cal State Fullerton political science professor Raphael J. Sonenshein: "The initiative heightens the ideological and partisan tensions..." In California. "It just adds to the fact that this is a very, very polarized electorate" (Trounson, et al., 2003).

"The preponderance of evidence suggests that the passage of Proposition #209 had no significant effect on governmental, businesses, or state educational services." Little effect on the first two sectors is evident, and yet the impact of Proposition #209 can be clearly seen in the third, reflected by the enrollment statistics of University of California (UC) campuses. From 1998 to 2002, years immediately following the passage of Prop. #209 (which was implemented in 1997), the percentage of African-Americans enrolled at UCLA Law School, was 2.9, while black students comprised just 3.4% of the student body at UC Berkeley (Chemerinsky, 2003). Those are state-funded institutions…

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