by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
As the U.S. Supreme Court reconsiders the role of race in college admissions, California prepares to mark a key anniversary. Twenty years ago California voters banned racial and ethnic preferences in college admissions, government hiring, and government contracting.
The 1996 Proposition 209, the California Civil Rights Initiative, marked the first time American voters had any say in affirmative action matters. Preference advocates attacked the initiative and are now mounting a surge.
Governor Jerry Brown, never a fan of 209, has filed briefs against the measure. State Attorney General Kamala Harris derides Proposition 209 as “a lessening of California’s commitment to student body diversity as an essential component of a comprehensive collegiate education.”
University of California bosses also maintain that Proposition 209 somehow harms “diversity,” but they do not mean simply the presence of diverse ethnicities, which has long been the reality on California campuses. By diversity they mean the student body should reflect the racial and ethnic proportions of the population. That will never happen at UC or anywhere else because of factors such as academic eligibility, personal differences, effort and choice.
A key issue, as Foon Rhee of the Sacramento Bee explains, is “the underrepresentation of blacks and Latinos at UC campuses, and the overrepresentation of Asians.” Asians represent 14.4 percent of the California population, but they account for 36 percent of the fall 2015 UC enrollment. Under diversity dogma, that means there are “too many” Asians.
Last year a proposed Senate Constitutional Amendment (SCA) 5 would have given voters the chance to restore racial preferences in state university admissions. Legislators quickly recognized it as an attack on Proposition 209 and a new kind of Asian Exclusion Act. The measure passed the Senate but did not emerge from the Assembly.
Enter California’s new Senate boss Kevin De Leon, who claims he wants to help students based on economic need, but there’s a catch. He doesn’t mean all students, regardless of race or ethnicity. As De Leon recently told the Sacramento Bee editorial board, he means poor minority students. What he proposes is a preference system for economic aid, which defenders of Proposition 209 quickly spotted.