California voters to decide fate of affirmative action ban

California voters will decide in November whether governments and public colleges and universities can consider race in their hiring, contracting and admissions decisions.

The state has banned affirmative action policies since 1996, when 55% of voters approved a constitutional amendment that banned “preferential treatment” based on race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin.

The ban has survived many court challenges and legislative attempts to change it. But this year, supporters were buoyed by the nationwide protests about racial injustice stemming from the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

The state Senate voted 30-10 on Wednesday to repeal that amendment, which still requires the approval of voters in November. Sen. Scott Wilk of Santa Clarita was the only Republican to vote for the repeal.

The vote followed hours of emotional debate. Sen. Steven Bradford, a Democrat from Gardena who is Black, called out some of his white colleagues who he says “have never hired a black person, and probably never will.”

“We’re race conscious in everything we do,” Bradford said. “Quit lying to yourselves and saying race is not a factor.”

The vote comes one day before the deadline to put Constitutional amendments on the ballot for November. The repeal will face strong, organized opposition from some in the state’s Asian community, who have said they fear it will be used against them at some of the state’s elite public universities where Asian Americans make up a higher percentage of the enrollment than they do of the state as a whole.

Republican state Sen. Ling Ling Chang, who is of Taiwanese descent, voted against the repeal.

“This bill is rescinding very simple but powerful language from our Constitution that makes it illegal to discriminate against someone for ethnicity or race in the course of public employment,” she said. “The answer to discrimination is not more discrimination.”

California is one of eight states that have banned affirmative action policies. Others include Washington, Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, Arizona, New Hampshire and Oklahoma. A constitutional amendment in Colorado failed to pass in 2008.