California Supreme Court to Decide Affirmative Action Lawsuit

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May 5, 2010
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On May 4, justices on the California Supreme Court appeared split on the question of whether Proposition 209, a 1996 initiative that amended the state constitution to ban affirmative action, violates the federal constitution.

The high court heard arguements in a lawsuit challening a 2003 San Francisco ordinance that gives firms owned by racial minorities and women a slight advantage in bids for city contracts.

The city of San Francisco argued that the program is necessary to level the playing field and counter ongoing discrimination.

An attorney for two white-owned contractors argued that the San Francisco ordinance violates Proposition 209, which prohibits affirmative action in government contracts, public employment, and public education.

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.

The state supreme court is not bound by the earlier federal court ruling.

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