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Cal­i­fornia voters will decide in November whether their state will uphold its gen­er­ation-old ban on racial pref­erence in public institutions. 

A new ballot ini­tiative, known as Propo­sition 16, would undo the results of the Cal­i­fornia Civil Rights Ini­tiative, which voters approved in 1996 in a cam­paign co-chaired by Hillsdale College Pres­ident Larry Arnn. Also known as Propo­sition 209, the older ini­tiative pro­hibited dis­crim­i­nation and pref­er­ential treatment on the basis of race, sex, color, eth­nicity, or national origin in public employment, public edu­cation, and public contracting.

“Propo­sition 16 for­sakes the only prin­ciple that can nourish and sustain equal rights: each is alike before the law,” Arnn said in an email. “That prin­ciple was strengthened in the Cal­i­fornia con­sti­tution by Propo­sition 209. To weaken it is to abandon the hope of the nation pursued from its beginning by the greatest Amer­icans, including those who built our college.” 

In 1996, 55% of voters sup­ported the Cal­i­fornia Civil Rights Initiative.

Propo­sition 16, which is on California’s ballot this year, would reverse it. Other mea­sures on the ballot include estab­lishing a task force to study repa­ra­tions, imple­menting racial quotas for private cor­po­ra­tions in Cal­i­fornia and a required minimum number of under­rep­re­sented minorities on their boards of directors, and requiring every high school student take a course on ethnic studies in order to graduate. 

Assem­bly­woman Shirley Weber (D‑79) intro­duced ACA 5, the bill that put Propo­sition 16 on the ballot,  stating that “the ongoing [coro­n­avirus] pan­demic, as well as recent tragedies of police vio­lence, is forcing Cal­i­for­nians to acknowledge the deep-seated inequality and far-reaching insti­tu­tional failures that show that your race and gender still matter.”

According to Arnn, Propo­sition 209 intended to treat everyone the same, with a few exceptions. 

“Its intent was simple: race and sex are not factors to be taken into account in gov­ernment employment, con­tracting, and admis­sions except where they con­stitute “bonafide” (this word is taken from the 1964 Civil Rights Act) qual­i­fi­ca­tions for the job, con­tract, or matric­u­lation,” Arnn said. “An example might be hiring police of one race or another to patrol the neigh­bor­hoods pre­dom­i­nantly of that race. In other cases, all are to be treated the same.” 

Prop 209 was co-written by Glynn Custred and Tom Wood. Custred is a pro­fessor emeritus of anthro­pology at Cal­i­fornia State Uni­versity East Bay, and Wood received his Ph.D. in phi­losophy from the Uni­versity of Cal­i­fornia, Berkeley. 

After hitting the press circuit to spread the word, Custred and Wood even­tually met Arnn, then the pres­ident of the Claremont Institute, who expressed his interest and desire to help the campaign. 

“He sur­prised and delighted us by saying he was backing it,” Custred said. “He was our first cam­paign manager and it was an important phase in the cam­paign since he brought the weight of the Claremont Institute to bear on the issue.”

Arnn even­tually passed the cam­paign torch to Ward Con­nerly, a regent of the  Uni­versity of Cal­i­fornia. Con­nerly now also heads the “No to Prop 16” campaign. 

 Arnn said that in “neither the Cal­i­fornia state con­sti­tution nor the federal Con­sti­tution is there a barrier to giving college admission pref­erence to people who are poor.”

“During the 1996 cam­paign, I asked the oppo­sition why that was not enough,” Arnn said. “If it is not enough, it seemed a logical fact that those who support race pref­er­ences want to admit richer people of one color over poorer people of another. There is a Stanford study from a few years back that says that most of the stu­dents admitted under racial pref­er­ences come from the suburbs, not the inner city. I think that is a shame and hope to be able to help with it.” 

Custred said Prop 209 aimed to bring the country closer to the American Founding prin­ciples of human equality. 

“Our prin­ciples did not cor­re­spond with our practice,” he said. “After 1964, we are finally reaching a point where we are bringing our prin­ciples into practice. Indi­vidual rights, not group rights. That was our message and it seemed to work. Now what’s hap­pening is a reaction taking us back to seg­re­gation, to a time when people were counted not by the content of their char­acter but the color of their skin.” 

Attempts to erase moral respon­si­bility through racial repa­ra­tions only serve to undercut human equality, Arnn said. 

“If unnamed indi­viduals or groups are claimed to harm some people who are iden­tified only by their color (and not by any harm that has come to them), then the con­nection between the law and moral respon­si­bility is broken,” Arnn said. “If people are pun­ished for crimes that they have actually com­mitted, then they have selected their own pun­ishment. If they are pun­ished for crimes that others com­mitted, or may not have been com­mitted by anyone, that is injustice, and injustice breeds more of the same.” 

Audrey Dow, who works for the Cam­paign for College Oppor­tunity and cur­rently assists the Cam­paign to pass Prop 16, said that pro­po­nents of the Prop 209 “fun­da­men­tally mis­un­der­stand the dif­ference between equality and equity.” 

“Propo­sition 209 had a critical flaw in its logic,” she said in an email. “It assumed that we live in a col­or­blind world where race doesn’t matter when we know race is a deter­mining factor in so many aspects of life from where you go to school, where you live, to how your resume is reviewed when you apply for a job.” 

According to Dow, there has been a “sys­temic failure through affir­mative action” to ade­quately rep­resent minority groups. 

However, an edi­torial from Aug. 28 in the Orange County Reg­ister points out that since the passage of Prop 209, diversity has actually increased in the state.

“From 2014 to 2018 alone, the pro­portion of California’s state civil service that was non-White increased from 53.9% to 57.5%…Both public employment and public uni­versity enrollment have con­tinued to diversify even after passage of Prop 209, [which] con­tra­dicts the idea that Prop 209 is an imper­meable barrier to diversity and oppor­tunity,” the edi­torial said.

In a memo, Con­nerly crit­i­cized the authors of Prop 16 for wanting quotas, rather than true diversity. 

“The State of Cal­i­fornia has com­pletely gone crazy over racial grievance,” Con­nerly wrote in the memo. “Together, these mea­sures demon­strate again that backers of racial pref­er­ences have never cared about so-called ‘diversity.’ They have always wanted racial quotas. Now, they even raise the ante with forced racial indoc­tri­nation and mandatory payment of money based on race.”

The campaign’s exec­utive director, Wenyuan Wu, said “Prop 209 is not a cat­e­gorical ban on affir­mative action.” 

“There are a plethora of legal analyses to prove that Prop 209 is a ban on dis­crim­i­nation and pref­er­ential treatment, not a ban on affir­mative action,” Wu said. “Rea­sonable race con­sciousness is per­fectly legal under Prop 209. Prop 16 is a mandate that would kill California’s con­sti­tu­tional prin­ciple of equality under the law.”

The media has attempted to portray the “No to Prop 16” cam­paign as “a con­ser­v­ative crusade,” according to Wu. 

“We think we are on the side of reason and morality,” she said. “This is not a par­tisan issue.” 

Prop 16 will be put on the ballot just 24 years after Prop 209 became law. 

“Cal­i­fornia has moved steadily to the left for 25 or 30 years,” Arnn said. “Factors include the movement of people in and out of the state, the leftward march of the edu­cation system and espe­cially of its elite grad­uates, the dom­i­nance of one political party, and the machine that party has been able to build.” 

Custred said that Prop 16 may be passed because of the success of the Left’s march through the institutions. 

“Uni­ver­sities, schools, and enter­tainment intro­duced the idea that Blacks can never be properly rep­re­sented. A whole gen­er­ation of younger people started to believe that,” he said. “The reigning value of those days has flipped and become some­thing else.” 

Despite the move leftward, public support has fal­tered. An article from the Los Angeles Times cited a poll pub­lished by the The Public Policy Institute of Cal­i­fornia showing that 31% of likely Cal­i­fornia voters sur­veyed said they would vote for Prop 16, while 47% said they oppose it. Twenty-two percent were undecided.