California Voters To Decide On Affirmative Action After Proposed Constitutional Amendment Clears Legislature

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Varun Hukeri General Assignment & Analysis Reporter
Font Size:

California voters will have the opportunity to reverse the state’s prohibition on affirmative action after the state Senate voted Wednesday to place a constitutional amendment on the November ballot.

The plan, if passed by a majority of voters, would remove the rules imposed by Proposition 209 barring government agencies and institutions from considering matters like race or sex, the Los Angeles Times reported. Prop. 209 was initially voted on in 1996 and amended California’s state constitution.

Currently, Section 31 of Article I of the state’s constitution reads: “The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.”

The 1996 ballot measure was highly controversial, with much of the debate centered around the fairness of affirmative action policies implemented by the University of California system, according to the Los Angeles Times. Some California law schools had reportedly been evading the affirmative action ban imposed by Prop. 209, a 2014 study found.

The proposal, known as Assembly Constitutional Amendment No. 5 (ACA5), passed the state Senate in a 30-to-10 vote Wednesday, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The California State Assembly voted 58-to-9 earlier this month to advance ACA5, the Sacramento Observer reported.

A similar ballot decision previously challenged Prop. 209 in 2014, but the vote failed due to strong opposition from equal rights and Asian-American groups, the California Globe reported.

First-generation Chinese-Americans have similarly led the charge against ACA5, claiming that the move would introduce racial quotas and prevent a merit-based approach to college admissions, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. (RELATED: OPINION: Asian Americans Shall Not be Victimized Again By Race-Based Policies)

Some Asian-American lawmakers echoed these sentiments, with Republican Assemblyman Steven Choi stating that “giving special or preferential treatment to someone based on their race is racism itself, or on their sex is sexism.” Other Asian-American lawmakers, like Democratic state Senator Richard Pan, said they supported ACA5.

Democratic Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, who authored the bill, argued that ACA5 would “acknowledge the deep-seated inequality and far-reaching institutional failures that show that your race and gender still matter.”

With ACA5 clearing both chambers of the California state legislature, the proposal is set to appear on the November ballot. Overturning Prop. 209 will only require a simple majority vote and does not require Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature.