Specifically, SB 185 would have overturned a 1996 proposition, Proposition 209, which amended California’s constitution to prohibit public institutions from considering race, sex or ethnicity in college admissions.
Senator Ed Hernandez championed SB 185 and said that Proposition 209’s large scope even disallowed “targeted outreach programs” meant to attract and retain qualified minority applicants.
“It is time California adopt the law of the land and eliminate policies that discourage college-eligible students from pursuing a higher education,” Hernandez said.
According to Hernandez, Latino, African-American, and Native-American student representation in the UC system has “remained stagnant,” despite the number of qualified high school graduates from these groups increasing over the past 15 years.
On the other side of the issue Ward Connerly, chairman of the American Civil Rights Institute, said in a press statement that SB 185 attempts to “create an illusion that there is some distinction between considering race and giving a preference.”
According to scholar of constitutional history and Stanford professor Jack Rakove, the neutral language used in the Constitution supports the concept of a race blind society. However, historically racial discrimination has occurred, he said, giving proponents of affirmative action a reason to “right the wrongs” that have been imposed against minorities in the long history of America.
Considering race is only constitutional when quotas are not imposed and all race-neutral means are exhausted, the Supreme Court has said. However, for the past 40 years, affirmative action decisions by the Supreme Court have been extremely varied and usually at odds with previous rulings.
While the Supreme Court has taken actions against imposing quotas on the amounts of minority students colleges can accept, they have said repeatedly that race can be used as a preference because it furthers “a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body”.
The Court, unlike California, has supported policies that would allow an avenue to using race as a preference.
While the California school system does not use race preference and the specific bill Brown was presented with did not pass, groups such as the UCSA Day of Action, made up of students from 10 UC schools, expressed support for the bill and for what it stood.
Bill Whalen, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution who specializes in California politics, said that he believes that an education system overhaul would be more beneficial than any amount of affirmative action legislation would be. He said that the constitutional ideal of a race blind society might more effectively be pursued if high education standards were ubiquitous and equitable.
“The idea would be that you would not necessarily have to look at someone’s race or economic background so much as you can look at what they have done in school and know that all kids are getting the same education,” Whalen said.
California can also consider affirmative action based on socioeconomic status, instead of race or gender.
On the national level, Rakove asserts that “socioeconomic affirmative action makes great sense as policy” and said he thinks that class is a “better determinant.”
“The problem there is you run up against a deeper ideology which is some kind of equality of opportunity, not of result,” he said. He clarified that this constitutional ideology does not necessarily apply to the California issue.
Some believe that socioeconomic affirmative action could even act as a way for California to help right some of the diversity problems the UC system is presently facing.
But Whalen believes that turning a school into a pie chart of specific minorities and majorities ends up hurting more people than it helps.
According to Whalen, the UC system would both increase their diversity through natural means and help level the educational playing field for all classes in California by giving more opportunities to students who have overcome more through a lower income background, regardless of race.