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Court upholds California affirmative action ban

By Christina Hoag

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 09:51 a.m. HST, Apr 02, 2012


LOS ANGELES >> Affirmative action proponents took a hit Monday as California's ban on using race, ethnicity and gender in admitting students to public colleges and universities was upheld by a federal appeals court panel.

The ruling marked the second time the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals turned back a challenge to the state's landmark voter initiative, Proposition 209, which was passed in 1996.

Affirmative action proponents, who had requested that the court reconsider its 1997 decision after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that affirmative action could be used in college admissions, said they would continue fighting.

"We think the decision is wrong," said Detroit attorney George B. Washington, who is representing the group of minority students and advocacy groups that filed the latest challenge in January 2010.

Washington said he would ask the full appellate court to review the case since this decision was issued by a three-judge panel.

In its ruling, the court rejected the plaintiffs' arguments that a new ruling is needed and said the previous decision still applies.

Universities may implement race-based admissions programs, but they are not constitutionally required, the court said.

Ralph Kasarda, attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation who had argued against overturning the ban, said the court's decision was not surprising since the issue had already been decided. This case was redundant and baseless, he said.

"The bottom line from both decisions by the 9th Circuit — today's and the ruling 15 years ago — is that California voters have every right to prohibit government from color-coding people and playing favorites based on individuals' sex or skin color," Kasarda said in a statement.

At least six states have adopted bans on using affirmative action in state college admissions. Besides California and Michigan, they include Arizona, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Washington.

Advocates of affirmative action say such bans lead to the exclusion of minority students and less campus diversity.

In California, the year after ban was adopted, the number of black, Latino and Native American students at the University of California's most prestigious campuses — Berkeley and Los Angeles — plummeted by 50 percent, the opinion said.

The university has tried to compensate for the drop in those students by using other admissions criteria, including a "comprehensive review" of applicants, admitting the top 4 percent of graduates from any high school and decreasing the weight of standardized tests, the opinion said.

But affirmative action proponents say the measures have not been enough to boost opportunities for historically excluded minorities.

Although blacks, Latinos and Native Americans comprise about half of California's high school graduates, they make up only 19.5 percent of the current freshman class at UC Berkeley. Whites compose roughly 30 percent and Asians 48 percent. The remainder is out-of-state students.

Backers of affirmative action bans say ruling out race, gender and ethnicity criteria guarantees that all applicants are treated fairly and not discriminated against.

The issue has led to protracted legal battles in several states.

In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court said the University of Michigan Law School could consider race in admissions decisions to promote campus diversity.

That decision led to a three-judge panel of the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals overturning Michigan's affirmative action ban last year. The full appellate court, however, has agreed to reconsider the case.

In February, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear another case against the University of Texas, alleging that use of affirmative action is discriminatory. If the court decides against the university, the ruling could definitively end consideration of race in public university admissions.


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EducatedLocalBoy wrote:
It should be interesting to see what happens to the lawsuit brought by a California resident of Chinese ancestry and who was the son of a physician who had better academic credentials but was rejected for admission to a University of California medical school while a California resident of Caucasian ancestry who had lower academic credentials was admitted to that medical school on what appears to be the basis that the school needed to maintain its "traditional look" on campus. This apparent white affirmative action is a thinly guised form of racism but will probably be upheld.
on April 2,2012 | 10:45AM
hawaiikone wrote:
This is quite an interesting topic. Apparently, better academic credentials are only one part of a comprehensive picture indicating a applicant's eligibility. For example, with 100 students, each having a 4.0 average, that are all applying for 50 openings, colleges are now using weighted criteria such as A.P. courses completed, to differentiate between candidates. Removing race as a consideration is at least forcing schools to more carefully consider their selection process, as many interested eyes are watching. I am unable to locate any reference to any school that uses "traditional looks" as part of their selection process. Could you forward that source? I'd be curious to read about the defense of such a requirement.
on April 2,2012 | 11:49AM
Living_Large wrote:
One may look better on paper, but if they go in for an interview and act as if the school "owes them" something, then they'll be in for a very rude surprise.
on April 2,2012 | 03:55PM
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