Groundhog Day in court? California ban on affirmative action is upheld. Again.

A three-judge panel from the Ninth US Circuit cited a 1997 appeals court decision upholding the affirmative action ban, which led to a sharp decline in minority enrollment at California state universities.

A federal appeals court on Monday left intact California’s ban on race-based affirmative action as a means to boost the ranks of minority students in the state university system, throwing out a lawsuit that sought to overturn the policy.

In turning the lawsuit aside, a three-judge panel of the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals cited a 1997 appeals court decision that upheld the constitutionality of the prohibition.

California voters approved the ban, Proposition 209, in 1996. The state-wide ballot initiative amended the state’s constitution to read in part: “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 amendment forced the University of California to end its long-standing affirmative action programs, and, instead, rely on race-neutral admissions mechanisms.

The action was challenged by several individuals and groups alleging the measure violated equal protection guarantees of the 14th Amendment. The court disagreed, and dismissed the suit 15 years ago.

In an effort to boost minority enrollment, the university system adopted a procedure of admitting the top four percent of graduates from any California high school. It also decreased the weight applied to standardized tests. But those policies did not compensate for the end of affirmative action, which led to a 50 percent reduction in minority enrollment. The new policies have increased minority enrollment, but not enough, opponents of Prop. 209 say.

Like the earlier suit, the new lawsuit raised equal protection claims. The plaintiffs said the university system was acting unfairly by allowing admissions officials to depart from baseline admissions standards to accommodate military veteran status, income, geographical background, athleticism, and legacy, but not to promote racial diversity or to address de facto racial segregation and inequality.

The plaintiffs said these policies treated African American, Latino, and Native American students unequally from Asian American and white students.

The appeals court cited the 1997 decision that held: “As a matter of ‘conventional’ equal protection analysis there is simply no doubt that Proposition 209 is constitutional.”

Writing for the court, Judge Barry Silverman also rejected the argument that the Supreme Court’s decision upholding the use of race to foster racial diversity at the University of Michigan Law School required California to adopt similar race-based diversity plans.

“[The Michigan decision] upheld as permissible certain race-based affirmative action programs. It did not hold that such programs are constitutionally required,” Judge Silverman said.

The bottom line, the judge said, is that the 1997 appeals court decision remains the law of the circuit – including California.

The US Supreme Court has agreed to hear a challenge to the affirmative action plan at the University of Texas. The case is not yet scheduled for argument. It will test the constitutionality of Texas officials’ justification of their use of race-based admissions criteria to attempt to achieve an acceptable level of racial diversity in every classroom and in every subject taught at the university.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.