Measuring California's impact from affirmative action ban

The U.S. Supreme Court issued another blow to affirmative action, so we take a look at how that might affect California's laws.
April 22, 2014 12:00:00 AM PDT
The U.S. Supreme Court has issued another blow to affirmative action. In a 6-2 vote, the court decided voters can ban affirmative action programs through ballot initiatives. California already did that in 1996, through Proposition 209.

What this means for California is that Prop 209 is pretty safe from any future legal action. There is no surprise there, but there were some very interesting moments in court on Tuesday. For example, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, a liberal, sided this time with the conservatives and then there was Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who read her dissent from the bench, which is something she would never normally do.

"New legal segregation making it possible for states to legally shut its doors of public universities," said a student.

That's how a small group of UC Berkeley students and members of an immigration rights organization described the Supreme Court's decision on the most recent affirmative action case.

With regard to Michigan, the Supreme Court said it's not right for any college or university to treat people differently on the basis of their race or gender and voters had the right to make that decision, like California did in 1996 through Prop 209.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority, "It is demeaning to the democratic process to presume that the voters are not capable of deciding an issue of this sensitivity on decent and rational grounds."

"This court, the five-justice majority is very wary of upholding any racial preferences," said Jesse Choper, a professor of law, UC Berkeley.

The sixth justice to side with the majority was a surprise -- Breyer -- who is one of the most liberal voices on the court. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sotomayor dissented. Justice Elena Kagan took no part in the case.

Sotomayor said, "[The Court] ought not sit back and wish away, rather than confront, the racial inequality that exists in our society."

Black and Latino enrollment at the University of Michigan has dropped since the ban went into effect. At Cal black students are among the most underrepresented.

"I don't think there is any question that at Berkeley it does for African Americans. You have a very small representation," said Choper.

The number of Latino freshmen offered admission for next year increased compared to the previous two years, still far less than the state numbers.


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