SACRAMENTO, California (AP) – California’s ban on affirmative 1996 action policies will be tested at the polls in November, as voters will decide whether governments and public colleges and universities can consider race in their hiring and admission decisions – all against the background of a presidential elections and cultural unrest about racial injustice.
California has banned affirmative action since 1996, when 55% of voters approved a constitutional amendment that made it illegal to give preferential treatment based on race, gender, color, ethnicity or national origin.
On Wednesday, the state senate voted 30-10 to withdraw that amendment, although voters must approve it in November before it can become law.
The 1996 amendment came at a time when republicans ruled the state and was only two years away from a separate voter-approved amendment – eventually overturned by the courts – that would have illegally outlawed immigrants living in the country using public schools and other public services. Seven other states eventually followed California’s lead in banning positive action policies: Washington, Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, Arizona, New Hampshire, and Oklahoma.
Since then, Hispanics outnumbered whites in 2015, because California’s largest ethnic group and voters have started Republicans from offices across the state and downgraded them to insignificant numbers in the state’s legislature. But critics say there are still inequalities in government contracts and university admission, as the ban allows racial prejudice to persist without programs and policies to correct it.
That includes the offices of state legislators, said Senator Steven Bradford, who called out some of his white colleagues who he says “have never, and probably never will, hire a black person.”
“We are race conscious in everything we do,” said Bradford, who is black. “Stop lying to yourself and saying that race is not a factor.”
Republicans scoff at the repeal of a law they say prohibits racial discrimination, with Republican Senator Melissa Mendez saying she believes “this is the least racist country in the world” – yielding a rare public rebuke to fellow Senator Connie Leyva , a Chino Democrat.
But the most vocal and organized opposition comes from the Asian community of the state, where some have said they fear racing being considered when entering university will hurt them at some of the state’s elite public universities, where Asian Americans make up a higher percentage of enrollment than they do for the state as a whole.
“The answer to discrimination is no longer discrimination,” said Senator Ling Ling Chang, a Republican of Taiwanese descent.
The ban has survived multiple legal challenges and legislative efforts to amend or withdraw it. But this year, supporters were supported by nationwide protests over racial injustice following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The movement has revived several laws in California and elsewhere to eliminate racial differences.
The state assembly passed a bill that would create a committee to investigate how reparations are made to black people for slavery. And on Wednesday, the state senate approved another proposed constitutional amendment that allowed people to vote for convictions during the parole – a problem that followers say disproportionately affects people of color.
Some Asian-American groups are already preparing a campaign to lift the ban on positive action. Crystal Lu, president of the Silicon Valley Chinese Association, said about 80 organizations have gathered and raised about $ 130,000 within 24 hours of their fundraising campaign launch.
“If the ability to be judged on your merit and not on your race is taken away, the fundamental appeal of this country will be eroded,” she said. “It’s that fear of being judged by where you come from.”
Legislative Asian Pacific islander Caucus officially approved the repeal earlier this week, adding that more than 100 organizations and community leaders “representing hundreds of thousands of Asian Pacific islanders” support the end of the positive action ban.
“Lifting the ban will provide more equal opportunities in public procurement, public employment and public education for all, including Asian Americans,” said government official David Chiu, president of the California Asia Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus.
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