Opposition from Asian American groups to Senate Constitutional Amendment 5 (SCA 5) (It would delete parts of Proposition 209) killed the measure. SCA 5 had been supported by Senators Ted Lieu (Torrance), Carolyn Liu (La Canada-Flintridge) and Leland Yee (San Francisco); they reversed their position and prevailed upon Assembly Speaker John Perez to return SCA 5 to the Senate, killing it.
Proposition 209, passed by the voters in 1996, prohibits the state from granting preferential treatment to individuals and groups on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in the operation of colleges, universities and public schools. It annihilated affirmative action in California. SCA 5 would delete parts of Proposition 209 and repeal its provisions relating to University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) campuses and the public school system.
Senator Ed Hernandez, author of SCA 5, previously introduced similar legislation in 2011. His rationale was that following passage of Proposition 209 there was a significant drop in the percentage of minority students enrolled at the UC and CSU campuses. Also, high schools are graduating more underrepresented students who are UC and CSU- eligible but not enrolling at those schools at the same rate. (Assembly Speaker Perez and Senate Pro Tem Darryl Steinberg have established a bilateral commission to address issues raised in SCSA 5.)
Asian Americans demand that SCA5 be defeated should be viewed in a broader context of the continuing struggle for affirmative action which has dwindled to a point where “diversity” often excludes African Americans. Similarly, the immigration reform debate rarely includes Blacks from the African continent, Latin America or the Caribbean.
The Asian American state senators, mentioned earlier, first voted for SCA 5 but reversed their position after “thousands of complaints” from Asian groups and urged Speaker Perez to postpone action on the measure. “As lifelong advocates for Asian American and other communities, we would never support a policy that we believed would negatively impact our children.”
As the LA Times editorialized, it’s not a foregone conclusion that if parts of Proposition 209 were repealed, Asian American enrollment at UCLA and Berkeley would decline, but it is a probability.” The issue, however, is whether racial preference benefits all students and the answer is a resounding “yes.” Asian American’s narrow appeal that SCA5 would reduce Asian students’ admissions is a variation of white conservatives’ credo - self-serving individualism- at the expense chiefly of Black and Latino students.
Last year, civil rights groups argued that the Supreme Court decision on affirming Michigan’s Proposal 2 (identical to California’s Proposition 209) was just as important as the court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision. The arguments apply to SCA 5 as well. The Los Angeles NAACP joined other civil rights groups in arguing that Michigan’s Proposal 2 denies minorities equal protection under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution for reasons that include giving special preferences to legacy admitees (children of alumni and donors), athletes and students who excel in the arts.
“If the state universities modified, reduced or revoked any of these admission policies, any of the affected persons have the right to opportunity and access to petition and contact the governor, board of trustees or individual presidents or chancellors of the colleges and universities.” The plaintiffs also argued California’s Proposition 209 and Michigan’s Proposal 2 took away from affected parties all rights, opportunities and access to redress the denial of equal protection and access to higher education.
On March 25th the California Legislative Black Caucus and Latino Legislative Caucus issued a joint statement on SCA 5, expressing their support for the measure despite its return to the Senate for further consideration. “We share a strong commitment to its passage and all measures that ensure equal opportunity for all Californians. SCA 5 would enact seriously needed reforms that would roll back the ban on race as a consideration in weighing college admissions. This will bring fairness and balance to our educational system.
“However, we must not ignore the fact that the major reason this measure has been delayed is due to a malicious disinformation campaign being waged by disingenuous ultra conservative partisans’ intent on denying equal opportunity for all Californians. We will not allow bad information to undermine good public policy.” Would that this strong statement was made earlier.
The central issue is whether the desire of an influential few should trump the right to opportunity and access of others, in this case, Black and Latino students’ access to admission to top higher education schools. The strictly self-serving position of Asian American groups is contrary to the principle of equal opportunity for all and makes a mockery of Asian Americans’ alleged support of racial diversity.
Let’s hope the Legislative Black Caucus and Latino Legislative Caucus sustain their commitment to fight for passage of SCA 5. Of course commitment to support the measure must also include a cross section of diverse communities ideally headed by Black and Latino leadership.