California Supreme Court Decision a Blow to Affirmative Action

In a decision anticipated to affect many state and local outreach and recruitment programs aimed at increasing participation of women and minorities in public employment, education and contracting, the California Supreme Court struck down a program by the City of San Jose that required companies awarded contracts by the City to show they made an effort to recruit women and minority-owned businesses as sub-contractors. In its first ruling on Prop 209 _ the highly contested initiative passed by California voters in 1996 _ the court’s decision prohibits “targeted outreach programs” directed exclusively at women and minorities.

Although clearly a set-back for affirmative action proponents, legal analysts believe many local and state government outreach and recruitment programs will survive. For example, the City of Los Angeles requires outreach to “women and minority-owned firms and others.” Expected to become a model for other local governments, the Los Angeles program was cited along with several other outreach efforts as “permissible” by the state Supreme Court’s Chief Justice Ronald M. George in a concurring opinion. George emphasized the court’s ruling “does not prohibit all affirmative action programs or preclude governmental entities in this state from initiating proactive steps…to address the continuing effects of past discrimination or exclusion.”

Even as many local governments were dropping affirmative action programs in the wake of passage of Prop 209, the City of Los Angeles has expanded the percentage of all contracts awarded to minority owned businesses to “near-record highs” according to the Los Angeles Times. Minority owned firms won 13.5% of city contracts, or $1.1 billion, in the past year after dropping sharply following passage of Prop 209. The contracts awarded to women entrepreneurs doubled to 10%, up from 4.5% (the first year data on women was collected).

The Feminist Majority Foundation led a large coalition of women’s and civil rights groups in the statewide Campaign to Stop Prop 209, which passed by a 54 – 46% margin, far below the initiative’s massive lead of 78 – 16% in the polls when the campaign began one year earlier.


Feminist Majority Foundation and Los Angeles Times - December 1, 2000

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