Jerry Brown and Racial Neutrality

Liberals just can't tolerate a race-neutral government, arguably the best and least intrusive way to keep racial discrimination at bay. But we racial preferences opponents commended Governor Jerry Brown earlier this month for vetoing SB 185, a bill that would have restored racial preferences in California.

State Senator Ed Hernandez introduced the bill earlier this year to authorize the University of California and California State University systems to consider race in admissions, despite a law barring the practice at taxpayer-supported schools. Fifteen years ago, 54 percent of California voters approved Proposition 209, a constitutional amendment that reads in part:

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.

To the lay eye, the language is clear and plain. To a lawmaker's eye, the language is ambiguous, fluid, and subject to the whims of interest groups. Various groups have challenged the law, and California's highest court ruled six to one that Proposition 209 was constitutional. Groups opposed to racial neutrality in government march on.

Liberal Brown and the left-leaning Los Angeles Times agree that taxpayer-supported universities should be allowed to lower admissions standards for certain racial and ethnic minorities, but both believe the judiciary should interpret the law, as it is constitutionally charged to do. In a letter to the state senate, Brown said the "constitutional system of separation of powers requires that the courts -- not the Legislature -- determine the limits" of the law. The newspaper opposed the legislature's attempt to restore racial preferences:

As much as this page exhorted Californians to vote against Proposition 209 in 1996, the constitutional amendment that bars affirmative action in state hiring and admissions at public colleges is now the law, having survived numerous legal challenges. A bill passed by the Legislature this year that would allow the University of California and California State University to "consider" race, gender and so forth in the admissions process is a clear attempt to flout that law. Gov. Jerry Brown should veto SB 185, which would thwart the will of the voters even if it survived a certain legal challenge.


We understand the frustration of the initiative's opponents, after multiple losses in court. Yet as a matter of principle, we also object to flouting the will of the voters who placed the measure into the state Constitution.