California Attorney General Jerry Brown said in a letter to the California state Supreme Court that Proposition 209, an amendment to the California constitution passed in 1996 that prohibits affirmative action in public employment, education, and contracting, is unconstitutional. The so-called California Civil Rights Initiative effectively ended affirmative action policies in the state and gutted sex discrimination law.
In the letter (see PDF), Brown reasons that “to the extent that [the amendment] is interpreted more broadly to bar race- or gender-conscious programs that would be permissible under the Fourteenth Amendment, it violates the Equal Protection Clause of the federal Constitution” and therefore may be ruled unconstitutional. The letter also states that “ironically, by effectively disadvantaging racial minorities and women in the political process, without an evident compelling governmental reason for doing so, [the amendment] seems to accomplish the very evil it purported to eliminate…racial and gender discrimination.”
According to the Los Angeles Times, Brown’s letter was at the request of the California state Supreme Court, which is currently considering a challenge to a law that gives an advantage to women and minority-owned businesses in bidding for contracts in San Francisco.
Ward Connerly, a California businessman, used the passage of Proposition 209 to build his nationwide campaign against affirmative action – Connerly’s efforts have led to affirmative action bans not only in California, but also in Michigan, Washington, and Nebraska. A similar affirmative action ban supported by Connerly was defeated in Colorado in 2008.
In the 2008 elections, Connerly’s campaigns also failed to gather enough signatures to qualify anti-affirmative action measures for the ballot in Missouri, Oklahoma, and Arizona. The Feminist Majority Foundation played a leading role in the effort to defeat Proposition 209 in 1996 and has continued to work against anti-affirmative action ballot measures.