California Supreme Court Rules in Case Challenging Ban on Affirmative Action

August 3, 2010

On August 2, the California Supreme Court ruled 6-1 that Proposition 209, the 1996 initiative barring state affirmative action programs based on race and gender, does not violate the federal constitution.

The decision arose from a lawsuit filed by two white contractors who objected to a 2003 San Francisco ordinance that gives firms owned by racial minorities and women a slight advantage in bids for city contracts.

However, Justice Kathryn Werdegar, writing for the majority, said that the San Francisco ordinance does not necessarily violate Proposition 209.  Werdegar wrote that San Francisco's affirmative action program is valid if the city can prove that it is narrowly defined and necessary to overcome intentional discrimination against businesses owned by racial minorities and women.

Learn More

Immediately after the passage of Proposition 209 by 54% of voters in November 1996, Governor Pete Wilson identified 31 state-funded programs for elimination or curtailment, including summer science programs for elementary school students and hiring programs that ensured recruitment from minority communities. 

Civil rights attorneys filed a class action lawsuit to stop Proposition 209 from taking effect. In late December 1996, U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson issued a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of the initiative.  In 1997, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Judge Henderson's ruling.


In a lawsuit focused on whether Proposition 209 violates the federal constitution, the high court rules that the state can prohibit preferences and discrimination based on race and gender.

Sikh Religious Musicians Settle with US Airways

December 14, 2009

Three internationally renowned Sikh religious musicians reached a settlement with US Airways one year after they were removed from a flight at the Sacramento International Airport in an incident of racial and religious profiling and discrimination. After the removal, the trio filed a formal complaint with the Department of Transportation. The musicians, Davinder Singh, Gulbag Singh and Iqbal Singh, are classical religious performers who perform in Sikh Gurdwaras (houses of worship) around the world. Sikhs wearing turbans, as the musicians do, have increasingly been subject to harassment and discrimination after September 11, particularly at airports, as have many other ethnic and religious groups.

Despite federal law prohibiting airlines from targeting and removing passengers based on their religious or ethnic appearance, the trio was subjected to biased treatment from US Airways after passengers expressed baseless concerns about the musicians’ appearance.

Shortly after passing through TSA screening without incident and peacefully boarding a US Airways flight, the men were ordered to leave the plane. They complied with the removal. However, airline employees did not provide any explanation as to why they were being removed, but they were told, through a Panjabi interpreter, that the pilot would not fly with them on board. After suffering humiliation in front of other passengers, the musicians were each handed a $5 meal voucher and forced to delay their travel until the next day. They experienced no problems boarding the Delta flight on which they were rebooked. 

The airline did not provide any legitimate security concerns justifying the removal. As terms of the settlement, the Chairman and CEO of US Airways issued an apology to the musicians. The musicians also received an undisclosed amount in compensation for the incident.

This settlement comes just after US Airways' recent settlement in a federal lawsuit in which six Muslim relgious leaders alleged that they had been removed from a flight based on their religious and ethnic backgrounds.

In 1994, the school district in the Central Valley town of Livingston suspended three Sikh children for wearing a kirpan, a small ceremonial knife which baptized Sikhs must wear at all times. After negotiations with the school district failed, the Sikh family sued. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the school had to make all reasonable efforts to accomodate the religious beliefs and practices of the children. The district ultimately allowed the children to wear kirpans that had been blunted and firmly sewed into their sheaths.

Learn More

Three world renowned Sikh religious musicians who had been removed from a US Airways flight for no valid safety reason reached a settlement with the airline.

Bids for Freedom

This lesson will help middle school students understand how the judicial system was fractured over the question of slavery in the decade before the Civil War. Students will compare and contrast the petitions for freedom of Bridget "Biddy" Mason and Archy Lee, slaves who were held in California, and Dred Scott, whose well-known lawsuit for freedom resulted in an infamous U.S. Supreme Court decision. Students will understand attempts by African Americans to realize the ideals set forth in the Declaration of Independence and how those attempts connected to the compromises regarding slavery in the 19th century.

Help us evaluate this lesson plan.


New America Now

You may need: Adobe Flash Player.

November 6, 2009

Listen to a conversation between Stan Yogi and Sandip Roy, host of New America Now: Dispatches from the New Majority, which was broadcast on KALW.


Sylvia Mendez Awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom

February 16, 2011

On February 15, President Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, to Fullerton resident Sylvia Mendez.

Mendez has spoken across the country about Mendez v. Westminster, the successful federal class action lawsuit her parents, Gonzalo and Felicitas Mendez (pictured above) and others filed in 1945 on behalf of five thousand Mexican American students attending schools in four Orange County communities.

At various points in history, California law mandated the segregation of African American, Native American, and Asian American students. But the legislature never singled out Mexican Americans for legalized segregation. It was common practice, however, for districts with large Mexican American populations to segregate Mexican Americans into inferior schools.

In April 1947, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld a lower court decision forbidding the Orange County school districts defendants in Mendez v. Westminster to continue segregating Mexican American students.

The case served as a precedent for federal courts in Texas and Arizona to rule segregation of Mexican American students unconstitutional. It also contributed to the passage of a bill signed by California Governor Earl Warren repealing all school laws requiring segregation.

The Mendez case was also an important trial run for legal strategies and arguments successfully employed in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case, in which the United States Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, ruled in 1954 that "separate but equal" schools were unconstitutional.

Learn More

Civil rights advocate whose parents (pictured here) successfully challenged segregation of Mexican Americans in Orange County schools receives nation's highest honor

Racist Incidents Spur Discussion and Protests at UC Campuses

March 3, 2010

A string of incidents at Univeristy of California campuses in recent weeks has generated protests and discussion throughout the university system about racism and intolerance. The highly-publicized incident that sparked the protests was a mid-February party held by UC San Diego fraternities mocking Black History month. Party organizers dubbed the event the "Compton Cookout" and sent invitations via Facebook encourageing men to wear oversized clothes, chains, and show tatoos. Women were instructed to speak very loudly while rolling their necks and waving their fingers.  A few days later, a campus television show aired a segment of the party and used a racial epithet to criticize Black students. On March 1, Governor Schwarzenneger condemned "intolerable acts of racism and incivility" on UC campuses. That same night, a Ku Klux Klan-like hood was discovered hanging from a statue outside the UC San Diego library. Police are investigating the matter.

The population of African American and Latino students at UC schools has historically been low. Black students currently make up only 3.8 percent of undergraduates in the UC system, while Latinos comprise 20.4 percent, whites are 30.5 percent, and Asians 39.8 percent of undergraduates. At UC San Diego, where the most explosive racial incidents have recently occured, African Americans students are less than 2 percent of undergraduates.

The effort to diversity the student population at UC campuses was set back after voters approved Proposition 209 in 1996. That initiative banned affirmative action in all state programs.


Governor condemns racism and incivility on UC campuses. Police investigate latest incident: discovery of a KKK-like hood at UC San Diego.

Wherever There's a Fight on New America Now Radio Program

November 12, 2009

Wherever There's a Fight co-author, Stan Yogi, spoke with Sandip Roy, host of New America Now: Dispatches from the New Majority.  The interview was broadcast on San Francisco's KALW radio on Friday, November 6, and again on Sunday, November 8.  Listen to the interview by clicking on the button below.

Learn More

Listen to Wherever There's a Fight co-author Stan Yogi being interviewed by Sandip Roy of KALW's New America Now.

Affirmative Action

This lesson provides a focused look at Affirmative Action through a close examination of the 1978 Supreme Court case, Regents of the University of California v. Bakke and the 1996 California ballot initiative Proposition 209. Students will examine the goal of diversity as a "compelling state interest" and the claim of past discrimination to evaluate affirmative action strategies as a tool in the continued struggle for civil rights. 

Help us evaluate this lesson plan.


California Supreme Court Posthumously Grants Law License to Chinese Immigrant

March 18, 2015

On March 16, 2015, a unanimous California Supreme Court posthumously granted a law licencse to Hong Yen Chang, a Chinese immigrant who unsuccessfully petitioned the state high court in 1890 for a licence to practice law.

The court in 1890 cited the federal Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which barred virtually all immigration from China and denied Chinese immigrants naturalization rights, as well as anti-Chinese laws memorialized into the California constituion of 1879 as the basis for its denial.

Chang arrived in the United States in 1872 when he was 13 to study.  He eventually attended Yale and earned a degree from Columbia Law School in 1886. He sat for the New York bar exam by special act of the legislature. When he was admitted to the New York state bar, the New York Times reported that Chang was the first Chinese immigrant admitted to any bar in the United States.

In 1890, he moved to California to work in San Francisco's Chinese community as an attorney. At the time, discrimination against Chinese immigrants was rampant.  In 1879, California voters ratified a new state constitution that denied Chinese the right to vote, prohibited the employment of Chinese by corporations or on public works except in punishment for a crime, and authorized cities to require Chinese to live outside city limits or only in segregated neighborhoods.

Through a series of federal court cases, Chinese plaintiffs were able to invalidate most of the anti-Chinese provisions. But it took almost a century for the last of the 1879 anti-Chinese constitutional provisions to be removed from the books by a statewide ballot initiative.

In 2014, members of the UC Davis Law School's Asian Pacific American Law Students Association asked the Califonria Supreme Court to award Chang his law license, pointing out that the laws that prevented him from practicing as an attorney have been discredited and repealed and asking the court to right the historic wrong against Chang.

Learn More

Hong Yen Chen was denied a licence to practice law in 1890 because he was Chinese

ACLU Sues State Over Public School Fees

September 12, 2010

The California affiliates of the ACLU filed a class action lawsuit against the State of California and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for allowing school districts throughout the state to charge fees for books and other essential educational materials.

Since 1879, the California Constitution has guaranteed the state's children a free education.

The lawsuit resulted from an investigation by the ACLU of Southern California, which uncovered a widespread practice among school districts of compelling students to purchase textbooks, workbooks, and assigned novels. Districts also charged students to take Advanced Placement examinations, even though completing these tests is a course requirement and affects students’ grades.

The suit contends that charging fees discriminates against children in lower-income families, resulting in an unfair system in which only the wealthy will be able to afford an education.

Learn More

In 2004, the Schwarzenegger administration settled a similar lawsuit, Williams v. California, which charged that the state had failed to fulfill its constitutional mandate to guaranteee the bare minimum infrastructure--up to date textbooks, safe buildings, qualified teachers--for a quality public education.

The settlement provided up to a billion dollars for school districts to purchase educational materials, to identify and fix deteriorating schools, and to ensure that all schools hired qualified teachers. The state also agreed to standards for teachers, access to textbooks, sanitary and safe campuses, and a parent-supported system to hold school districts accountable to those standards.

Schools throughout California allegedly charge for textbooks, workbooks, and art music, and other courses.
Syndicate content