Civil Liberties

Civil Wrongs

Righting affirmative action mistakes


"Discrimination isn't wrong because certain people suffer, it's wrong because anybody suffers," says California State Assemblyman Bernie Richter (R-Chico). Last summer he proposed a constitutional amendment that would end racial preferences and discrimination by the state of California and its agents, including the enormous state university system. Opponents of affirmative action have never before mounted such a serious political challenge to the practice.

The amendment had 43 co-sponsors in the state legislature, but as expected, it failed to make it out of committee in August. Advocates of the California Civil Rights Initiative now plan to propose the amendment as a statewide ballot initiative in March 1996.

They'll need 615,000 signatures. But every reliable poll taken for the last 20 years shows that about 70 percent of Americans oppose preferential treatment for women and underrepresented minorities. Even a majority of African Americans–often the intended beneficiaries of such programs–oppose affirmative action, and there is no significant gender gap in support.

The operative provision of the CCRI reads: "Neither the State of California nor any of its political subdivisions or agents shall use race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin as a criterion for either discriminating against or giving preferential treatment to any individual or group in the operation of the state's system of public employment, public education or public contracting."

The CCRI would do more than just promote a color-blind society. It could also save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars annually, especially in the universities and state contracting, says the state's attorney general. Supporters of the measure hope the idea will spread to the 22 other states that allow ballot initiatives.