End Game for Race-Based Affirmative Action?

November 4th, 2008 2:39 PM

On the ballot in Colorado and Nebraska are initiatives aimed at ending government sanctioned racial quotas, set asides and preferential treatment that stand a strong chance of passing, if recent history is any indication.

When presented with the opportunity in California and Michigan voters rejected race-based affirmative action practices by sizable margins, while preserving other outreach programs that operate under the banner of affirmative action.

Unfortunately, news media coverage of the campaign on behalf of race and gender neutral policies has been "deceptive, shallow and highly biased," Ward Connerly, chairman of the American Civil Rights Institute (ACRI) said in an interview.

There is very little in the way of "nuance" in media reports that fail to distinguish between preferential treatment policies that run counter to American ideals and benign practices that seek to expand opportunity, he observed.

Over the past month a Nexis search shows that civil rights ballot measures in both states have received a paucity of coverage and are usually intermixed with reports that concern other ballot questions.

 The "Super Tuesday for Equality" effort began with an evaluation of those states that had provisions for ballot measures; there are a total of 24. ACRI had initially settled on Arizona, Colorado, Nebraska and Missouri and Oklahoma for this year's election.

However, even after prevailing in court over legal challenges filed by opponents, there was not sufficient time to collect enough signatures in all of the targeted states, Connerly explained.

He expects to prevail in Colorado and Nebraska this time around and will revisit Arizona and Missouri for sure in the 2010 election.

The hard reality in Oklahoma is that state officials use a methodology for ballot initiatives that is "fundamentally impossible," to navigate and it is not likely that the effort will return to the state anytime soon, Connerly observed.

But looking ahead there are other states like Utah that stand a good chance of being added in with Arizona and Missouri for the 2010 elections, he declared.  

The Colorado Civil Rights Initiative and Nebraska Civil Rights Initiative would amend the constitution in each state with anti-discriminatory language that hue closely with California's Proposition 209.

Connerly, who served as a University of California Regent, spearheaded the campaign on behalf of the constitutional change in California. His organization also helped to drive support for the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, which passed in November 2006.

In Missouri Circuit Court Judge Richard Callahan ruled in favor of ballot proponents who sought language that offered voters a more carefully calibrated definition of affirmative action than what was previously certified by Secretary of State Robin Carnahan.

Under state law, the secretary of state is required to write up ballot language up to 100 words that explains proposed constitutional changes in a manner that is widely understood.

Tim Asher, executive director of the Missouri Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI) argued in his lawsuit that Carnahan used language that is "argumentative, prejudicial and untrue." 

The language for the constitutional amendment in Missouri is identical to what is being used this year in Colorado and Nebraska. It reads as follows:

"The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education or public contracting."

The Missouri secretary of state's official summary read in part as follows:

"Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to: ban affirmative action programs designed to eliminate discrimination against, and improve opportunities for women and minorities in public contracting, employment and education; and opportunities for, women and minorities in public contracting, employment and education..."

Judge Callahan in his ruling inserted the phrase affirmative action but also added in stipulations that satisfied supporters.

"The judge's ruling was fair and equitable," Asher said in an interview. "It added clarity to the language that was submitted by the secretary of state. Affirmative action is an amorphous term that people define in different ways, that's why we didn't include it in our original language."

An announcement will be made at the November about the ACRI's intentions for the 2010 elections because the required number of signatures needed in Missouri is based on the number of votes cast in the most recent election, he explained.

"We have already won this in the hearts and minds of the American people," Connerly said. "This is a 70 to 30 issue with 70 percent of the public opposed to race-based affirmative action."

The legal victory in Missouri adds momentum for 2010, he added. Moreover, if Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) is elected as the first African-American president in combination with the ballot measures passing it will be even more difficult for government officials to rationalize race-conscious polices going forward, he argued.