A federal appeals court on Monday rejected an attempt to revive preferential admissions for minorities at the University of California and reaffirmed the legality of Proposition 209, the state’s voter-approved ban on affirmative action.
The suit – filed by 55 UC applicants and an advocacy group called By Any Means Necessary, and supported by Gov. Jerry Brown – argued that the legal rationale for Prop. 209 had been undermined by developments since the initiative passed in 1996.
One development was a 2003 U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing universities to consider applicants’ race as a factor in promoting campus diversity. The other was a 50 percent drop in admissions of Latinos, African Americans and American Indians at UC in the first year after Prop. 209 passed.
Minority enrollment has risen somewhat since then under UC policies to admit the top 4 percent from each California high school, and to give less weight to applicants’ scores on standardized tests.
Brown also argued against Prop. 209 in court, saying it created unfair barriers by outlawing preferences for minorities and women, while allowing other groups – military veterans, athletes, children of alumni – to seek preferential admissions.
But in a terse 3-0 ruling, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said similar arguments had been addressed and rejected in 1997, when another panel of the court upheld Prop. 209.
The 2003 Supreme Court decision allowed race-based affirmative action in some circumstances, but “it did not hold that such programs are constitutionally required,” Judge Barry Silverman said in the appeals court’s decision. He noted that the high court has granted review of a Texas case that could lead to a nationwide ban on preferential treatment of minorities.
California’s Prop. 209 barred state and local agencies from considering race or gender in employment, contracting and education. The lawsuit challenges only the measure’s application at UC, but a ruling striking down any part of Prop. 209 would have made all of it vulnerable.
The measure was defended in court by its sponsors, an organization led by former UC Regent Ward Connerly. Their lawyer, Ralph Kasarda of the Pacific Legal Foundation, said Monday’s ruling was “good news for everyone who values fairness and equal opportunity.”
The plaintiffs’ organization said it would ask the full appeals court for a rehearing.