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Garden Party 2023 Reflections

Western Center’s Garden Party 2023 was a night for the ages. We gathered in community, indoor and outdoor, and virtually, on October 19th to celebrate social justice and anti-poverty trailblazers at the Ebell of Los Angeles. Our annual fundraiser contributes to our own work while giving us the space to shower glitter on colleagues and partners in this fight for a more just world.

Over 300 friends, colleagues, mentors, activists, and more gathered for this beautiful, heartfelt night. Crystal Crawford, Western Center’s Executive Director, opened the night by bringing our attention to the 60 anniversary of the March on Washington and the 60th anniversary of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing that killed 4 little Black girls in Birmingham. While highlighting the connection between these historic social justice moments and the founding of Western Center, she celebrated the progress that has been made with completion of the long-awaited final report of the California Reparations Task Force this year.

In addition to the spirit of celebration in the air in recognition of Western Center’s 56 years of legal and legislative victories, the night was also heavy with grief as we mourned innocent lives lost in Israel and Palestine. Honoree Gina Belafonte powerfully drew a throughline from colonization to slavery to the abject terror and violence happening in Israel and Gaza.

It’s a stark reminder of the people we’ve lost along the way for justice, for desegregation, for voting rights, for a right to live with dignity and respect. So many are not here with us today, but we can celebrate them, say their names, and honor them in our own fights.

Our emcee, Chike Robinson, highlighted several Western Center victories and drew our attention to the jump in poverty, the largest single year jump, due to the refusal of policymakers to continue lifesaving programs like eviction assistance, the child tax credit, and more.

But those paying attention knew this would happen. Ending poverty takes all of us, and it takes direct and meaningful action, not the status quo.

We were privileged to honor four individuals and one firm this year, all of whom have been amazing partners in this work.

Harry Belafonte and Gina Belafonte received our Inaugural Derrick Bell Award 

Harry Belafonte was more than a musician, actor, activist, and philanthropist. He was a force. He was a freedom fighter. He was an anti-apartheid warrior. He was a movement mentor extraordinaire. He encouraged and challenged generations of artists of color to stretch the ways they moved within the industry and their communities.

Gina Belafonte is an award-winning Producer, Director, Actress, Educator, Prison Abolitionist, and Freedom Activist. She has been using art as a tool for over 25 years to communicate messages of hope and civic engagement.

Derrick Bell was a distinguished legal scholar, prolific writer, and tireless champion for equality. His work inspired the development of critical race theory, a body of legal scholarship that explores how racism is embedded in laws and legal institutions. Professor Bell was a co-founder and past Executive Director of Western Center.

Covington & Burling, LLP  received the Max Gillam Pro Bono Award 

Covington & Burling, LLP did 1,500 plus hours of extraordinary pro bono work in Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) Action v. the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD). Covington worked alongside Western Center and our partners to hold the state accountable for multiple systemic failures in distributing Emergency Rental Assistance Program funds intended to keep people housed during the pandemic. 

The Max Gillam Pro Bono Award memorializes preeminent litigator Max Gillam, who served as pro bono counsel when Western Center faced an attack aimed at shutting our doors and ending federal support for legal services providers

Eva Paterson, Civil Rights Activist & Social Justice Champion received the Earl Johnson Equal Justice Award

Eva Paterson is a civil rights champion and litigator with more than four decades of experience. Paterson co-founded the Equal Justice Society, a legal organization transforming the nation’s consciousness on race through law, social science, and the arts and served as its President from 2000 through August 31, 2022.

The Earl Johnson Equal Justice Award is named after and presented by Justice Earl Johnson (ret.), Scholar in Residence at Western Center on Law and Poverty, who served as an Associate Justice of the Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, from 1982 to 2007. Both Justice Johnson and Eva Paterson are graduates of Northwestern and both made history when they served as Student Body President.

Yolanda Arias, Managing Attorney, Legal Aid Foundation of LA received the Mary Burdick Advocate’s Award 

Yolanda Arias, Managing Attorney at the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, was selected unanimously by Western Center attorneys to receive this honor. This award recognizes Yolanda’s extensive work as a litigator, trainer, and mentor in the field of public benefits, medical debt, foster care, and immigration.

Mary Burdick joined Western Center as a staff attorney in 1975, later serving as co-Senior Counsel, and ultimately, Executive Director. During her tenure, Mary argued two of the three U.S. Supreme Court cases ever argued by Western Center attorneys, Cabell v. Chavez-Salido, 454 U.S. 432 (1982), and Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552 (1988). 

Throughout the night we listened to music by DJ T-Kay (Dublab) who blessed us with worldwide diasporic sounds including Brasilian jazz, African funk, and Latin soul.

And we ended the amazing night with singer and philanthropist Aloe Blacc performing “Someday We’ll All be Free” in a moving special musical tribute to Harry Belafonte. 

A special thanks to the Western Center Development Team as well as their partners – the Ebell of Los Angeles, Carol Kono-Noble, First Option Entertainment, Designs by Her, Fotospark, Pablo Aguilar photography, and House of Printing for working tirelessly to make Garden Party 2023 a success.

We look forward to seeing many of you at future events and webinars, and we’ll see you next year for Garden Party 2024.

Time Is Running Out To Cash Riverside County Juvenile Fee Settlement Checks

Around 1,200 Riverside County families who paid juvenile detention fees between December 2016 and April 2020 were mailed settlement checks earlier this summer. But around 400 have yet to cash them, and time is running out.

The backstory: California families that had a child in the juvenile system used to be charged a daily fee for every day their child was in juvenile hall. California legislators banned that in 2021. But earlier this year Riverside Superior Court approved a $540,307 settlement for families who paid those fees between 2016 and April 2020. Those checks were mailed in July.

Why it matters: Rebecca Miller, a senior litigator at the Western Center on Law and Poverty, said the fees loomed over the families while their child was incarcerated. “This is just such an important opportunity for us to undo some of that financial stress that these fees cause” Miller said.

Why now: Families who think they’re eligible have until Nov. 11 to cash the check. There’s about $150,000 left unclaimed from the settlement. Hong Le, a senior attorney with the National Center for Youth Law says she hopes all community members are able to access the money that’s owed to them. “We’ve already seen the positive impacts these repayments have had on some class members,” Le said. “Everyone who was harmed by these illegal practices deserves this refund and to be able to use this money however they choose.”

How to know if you’re eligible? Head to the settlement site or call Riverside County’s settlement administrator.

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Albertson-Kroger Merger: bad for local community food security/food access, bad for local independent grocers, and bad for worker’s rights.

Albertson-Kroger Merger: bad for local community food security/food access, bad for local independent grocers, and bad for worker’s rights. 

By Abraham Zavala-Rodriguez, Outreach and Advocacy Associate

Business boomed during the COVID-19 pandemic. We were encouraged to stay at home and therefore ate more at home and used more utilities. Food costs increased, demand was high, and people continued to work through these difficult times. Grocery workers, distribution workers, and meat packing workers became sick and died as a result of COVID-19. Profits for these big grocery chains soared at historic rates while deaths increased among frontline workers

When you go to the grocery store, you see shelves and shelves of goods – from canned goods to diapers to fresh fruits and vegetables, to dairy to poultry. What you may not think about as often is the labor and logistics that went into stocking those shelves. 

Truck drivers bring food from across the country from warehouse centers to the store sites. Workers unload the truck and stock the shelves early in the morning and late at night, and others inspect the deliveries to assure the best quality. 

Depending on the grocery chain; you’ll see grocery store workers alongside personal shoppers fulfilling digital orders via an app. The grocery industry is evolving and profiting post-pandemic. Fierce competition is scaling up amongst big corporate grocers. 

In a move that will impact everyone from employees to grocery shoppers, Kroger announced its plans to acquire Albertsons for nearly $25 billion almost a year ago. This move would combine two of the largest grocery chains nationally. The deal creates a grocery chain amassing 5,000 locations across the U.S. Kroger representatives claim that it is the best option in balancing competition against Walmart and other big brands.

However, a study by the Food and Water Watch groups found that between 1993 and 2019 the number of U.S grocers fell by 30%. The U.S Department of Agriculture found that between 2005 to 2015 the market share of local independent grocers dropped in 41% of counties across the U.S. 

Small mom and pop businesses and your local bodegas or mercaditos will continue to get boxed out amidst consolidation of big corporate chains. These closures impact areas typically already experiencing food access issues. The top five grocery chains own half of the entire market, with Walmart dominating a quarter of the overall market share. 

At the beginning of this month, Kroger and Albertsons announced it will sell 400 stores to C&S Wholesale Grocers, a move meant to ease the approval process. 66 of these stores are in California. The deal is pending approval by the FTC. Make no mistake, these big grocer cartels control food prices and will hurt local economies no matter how many stores they sell to get federal approval. 

The California Attorney General’s office has expressed serious concerns with the merger. The Attorney General has the power to review and stop mergers that are anti-competitive and will cause serious harm to consumers. 

This ongoing shift of large operators consolidating will allow them to dominate price negotiations with suppliers further impacting small local operators, increasing prices and diminishing access to food. 

This merger also touches on Black and Latinx health and access to medicines. A recent USC study showed that Black and Latinx communities lack access to pharmacies. 2,254 Kroger stores have a pharmacy in store while 1,700 Albertson include a pharmacy onsite. The concern is that the merger will lead to low performing stores with pharmacies closing, widening the pharmacy access gap. Millions would have no place to pick up their medication or would have to go long distances to do so. 

Community advocates and labor groups have spoken out against the Kroger-Albertsons merger, saying the move will hurt everyday people by raising prices and impact the livelihood of grocery workers. Less competition means chains can raise prices and consumers will have few, if any, other options. The same goes for employees, who have less bargaining power and fewer choices if they want to find a different job. 

Alarmingly, the merger will lower wages for 746,000 grocery store workers in over 50 metropolitan areas of the U.S.,” with total annual earnings dropping by $334 million in those locations.This will impact all workers across these major cities, not just those Kroger-Albertson workers. 

“These major corporations are playing monopoly with the livelihoods of our communities because they have only looked at our communities through the lens of dollars and cents and never through the lens of humanity. People who live in these communities that will soon be abandoned with no resources to rely on are tired of the white flight mentality that has continually been perpetuated by CEOs who only came to the neighborhood to take the community’s resources until they are dry,” says Christopher Sanchez, Policy Advocate for Western Center on Law and Poverty.

As the merger remains under Federal Trade Commission (FTC) review, community groups and labor remain vigilant and in opposition to the latest monopolization by large corporations over food price and access. 

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) opposes the merger. According to UFCW, Kroger has not been responsive to calls by the union to be more transparent about the deal. 

Governor Newsom has the chance to stand once again with working people by signing UFCW-sponsored Senate Bill (SB) 725 by Senator Lola Smallwood-Cuevas and offer grocery workers an important and much needed safety net. This bill would ensure corporations are held accountable to employees who are laid off due to a merger or acquisition by providing workers with one week’s severance pay per year of service. While the field will never be equal, this bill provides workers and their families with important economic safety protections when mergers and corporations devastate local communities and push them deeper into poverty. 

Help urge Governor Newsom to sign this critical bill into law by sending him a quick email

We must stop this merger and all large agribusiness mergers in its tracks. Agribusiness grows and continues to make horizontal and vertical growth in the grocery industry, further cornering the market in the hands of a few. 

We must support stronger enforcement of antitrust measures and uplift leaders that will champion a stand against powerful corporations impacting our food economies.  

We must continue to push state and local governments to champion the rebuilding of local food economies and try different paths. One way is to find alternatives that are controlled by local communities. One example is Mandela Grocery in Oakland, California, a food worker cooperative. Workers share in the profits and decision making. They source fresh products from locally owned Black farms. The local community and workers have a say. 

We must not forget the workers who kept us fed during difficult times, times they were experiencing and enduring too. Hundreds of thousands of people became unhoused and turned to SNAP benefits, known as CalFresh benefits in California, to get by because wages did not increase significantly. As communities with low incomes, communities of color, seniors, people with disabilities, and children continue to recover, this merger and others like it will only increase avoidable food insecurity. 

A legal battle in Texas over a Black student’s hairstyle has renewed calls for a national CROWN Act. Here is what that means

The family of a Black high school student who has been suspended for weeks over his locs hairstyle have sued Texas state leaders, requesting the governor take action to protect the 17-year-old from hair discrimination.

Black natural hair advocates say the legal battle has renewed focus on the history of hair discrimination in the US and the need to pass a national CROWN Act.

The CROWN Act and similar laws protect against race-based hair discrimination by making it illegal to deny employment and educational opportunities based on natural hair texture and protective hairstyles.

The legislation, which stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair” (CROWN) has been championed by natural hair advocates who argue Black Americans have faced discrimination in the workplace and in schools because of their hair.

Although the language of each law differs across the states that draft them, CROWN Act laws generally prohibit discrimination based on hairstyles that are commonly associated with a particular race or culture, including Black hairstyles like locs, braids or Bantu knots.

These styles are known as “protective hairstyles” because they help maintain the health of the hair by tucking strands to prevent additional stress and breakage, which promotes hair to grow. The styles also protect the hair from the overuse of heat from styling tools such as flat irons.

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Western Center Roundup – August 2023


Commemorating the 60th Anniversary of the March on Washington, Black August, and Black Philanthropy Month

This month, we commemorated the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington, led by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other giants of the civil rights movement. The march and King’s remarks that day are lodged in Americans’ collective memory as a turning point in the struggle for civil rights. Last Saturday, more than half a century later, a multiracial coalition of thousands of people gathered once again on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to demand social, racial, and economic justice and decry the people and systems that are trying to undo the progress we’ve made over the past 60 years. We recognize that all of our struggles are interconnected, and that liberation requires all of us to play a role in fighting oppression. Black August is a commemoration of the fallen freedom fighters of the Black Liberation Movement, a call for the release of political prisoners, a condemnation of the conditions in prisons, and a continued fight for Black liberation. This month is also Black Philanthropy Month, founded by Dr. Jackie Bouvier Copeland in 2011, as a global celebration and intentional campaign to elevate giving and funding equity. The theme of this year is “Love in Action,” inspired by the writings of bell hooks on love as a driver of true social change. She wrote, “But love is really more of an interactive process. It’s about what we do, not just what we feel. It’s a verb, not a noun.” Our development team continues to intentionally uplift the practice of putting love into action by applying community-centric fundraising principles in their work with the support and guidance of our philanthropy consultant, April Walker from Philanthropy for the People



New Settlement: Affirming Access to Charity Care

Earlier this month, we announced our landmark settlement in a charity care case against Santa Clara Valley Healthcare with co-counsel Consumer Law Center, Inc., addressing the county’s failure to adequately inform patients with low and no incomes of the hospital’s charity care and discount payment policies. As a result, the County has updated their notices on how patients can qualify for free and discounted payments and expanded the number of languages notices are available in. An estimated 43,000 former patients of Santa Clara Valley Healthcare have received notice of possible billing corrections and refunds. “Medical debt, particularly hospital debt, burdens many Californians and forces them to forgo medically necessary care and other life necessities. We hope this lawsuit will give thousands of Santa Clara residents some financial relief,” said Helen Tran, Senior Attorney with the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

News coverage of the settlement can be viewed in Kaiser Health News and KTVU.

 

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9/19: Pasa La Voz and Meet the Advocates – Medi-Cal Renewals

For this next Meet the Advocates, we’re excited to partner with the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California. Their “Pasa La Voz” project aims to spread awareness and education about health, and to provide community resources to Latinx families and individuals in a culturally and community-informed manner. On Tuesday, September 19th from 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM, join Western Center senior attorneys David Kane and Helen Tran and Ana Tutila, a Promotora in Orange County with the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California as they discuss the importance of Medi-Cal renewals for California’s health and racial equity goals – and the current challenges facing those renewing their coverage. Millions of Californians who depend on Medi-Cal are going through the renewal process for the first time since before the start of the pandemic. We’ll be diving into the work advocates and community-based organizations are doing to support people enrolled in Medi-Cal to keep their coverage, highlighting on-the-ground challenges enrollees are facing, and discussing the policy changes needed to improve this process.

RSVP


Weekly Checklist: It’s Time to Update Your Employee Appearance Policy

FP Weekly members receive a practical and cutting-edge checklist of issues to consider, action steps to take, and goals to accomplish to ensure you remain on the top of your game when it comes to workplace relations and employment law compliance. This week we are republishing a checklist of items to consider when revising your employee appearance policy and dress code – an especially timely topic given the news that the U.S. Senate has relaxed its traditional dress code.

Evolving Workplace Expectations and Standards

Pandemic prompted changes. Many workplaces have become more casual in recent years, and the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated this movement. Employers and co-workers alike probably don’t mind when a cat, dog, or child occasionally makes an appearance in a Zoom call, and they accept that many employees on those calls are wearing sweatpants with their camera-ready dress shirt. Moreover, many employers that want workers to return to the office have offered a variety of incentives, including a relaxed dress code.

What does this mean for your appearance standards? These changes should motivate you to think about how to strike a balance between employee comfort and the standards of professionalism for your particular company culture and industry. Every workplace is different, but in general, you should consider the following questions:

_____

Will you create a general policy simply requiring employees to look professional and well-groomed? Or do you want to be more specific?

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Will you require customer-facing employees to dress more professionally or formally than those who only interact with co-workers — whether in person or on camera?

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Will you create a separate policy for Zoom meetings that may be more relaxed than your in-person appearance policy?

_____

Do you want to be more specific about what attire is unacceptable in the office or on Zoom? For example, are jeans and a t-shirt allowed? What about baseball caps, sleeveless shirts, or hooded sweatshirts? Just be sure to review such policies for compliance with the workplace laws discussed in more detail below.

Hairstyle equity. In addition to pandemic-related changes over the last few years, calls for social justice led many jurisdictions to pass laws combating workplace racial bias based on hairstyle. In fact, 19 states and many localities have passed a version of the CROWN Act, which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees and job applicants based on natural or protective hairstyles. Natural hair has not been treated with chemicals that alter color or texture — such as bleach or straightener. Protective hairstyles — such as braids, locs, twists, or bantu knots — tuck the ends of the hair away to protect from sun, heat, and other damage.

Racial discrimination based on hairstyles is a part of everyday life for many Black adults, according to a study by the CROWN Coalition — which was founded by Dove, National Urban League, Color of Change, and Western Center on Law and Poverty. Moreover, a 2019 Dove CROWN study found that Black women were 1.5 times more likely to be sent home from work because of their hair and 30% more likely to be made aware of a formal workplace appearance policy than their co-workers.

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California lawmakers vote to ban mandatory evictions for arrested tenants

State lawmakers approved legislation late Wednesday that would bar mandatory evictions or exclusion for California tenants and their families based on criminal histories or brushes with law enforcement.

Assembly Bill 1418 combats local policies known as “crime-free housing” that can require landlords to evict tenants for arrests or prohibit landlords from renting to those with prior convictions. The bill would make many of these laws unenforceable, ending the practice in scores of communities.

The bill’s author, Assemblymember Tina McKinnor (D-Hawthorne), said that its passage advances the state’s racial justice efforts by stopping communities from using crime-free housing laws to exclude or push out Black and Latino renters.

“We want to make sure we keep Black and brown people in their homes and that [crime-free housing rules] are not used as an excuse for gentrification,” McKinnor said.

The bill does not affect landlords’ ability to initiate nuisance-related evictions or screen tenants based on criminal histories of their own accord.

AB 1418 was inspired by a 2020 Times investigation that highlighted the proliferation of crime-free housing policies across California, especially in communities with growing Black and Latino populations. Times reporting found that local governments have approved the policies even when crime rates were stable or falling, while the number of Black or Latino residents was increasing. The Times determined that in some areas crime-free housing rules were enforced against Black, Latino and other tenants of color in far greater numbers than their share of the population.

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US judge declines to issue TRO on government over SNAP benefits

A federal judge in Oakland decline Thursday to issue a temporary restraining order on the U.S. government to ensure that SNAP food benefits are authorized for October in case the government shuts down at the end of this month.

U.S. District Judge Jon S. Tigar heard arguments on an ex parte motion in Oakland from plaintiff’s counsel and U.S. Department of Justice attorneys. His order came hours later.

At stake “is the food security of 40 million low-income Americans, more than 10% of the country’s population,” stated Jodie Berger of the Western Center on Law and Poverty in Los Angeles, in a memorandum in support of the ex parte motion for a TRO and order to show cause regarding a preliminary injunction.

“Unless this court intervenes by Sept. 15, may – indeed, most – of these people will no receive the October Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (“SNAP”) benefits that they rely on for their subsistence food needs,” Berger wrote.

California Steps up to Stop Big Tobacco From Maliciously Targeting Black Communities

Every year, over 45,000 Black lives are lost in the United States to tobacco-induced illnesses like lung cancer, heart disease, and strokes. Tobacco corporations for decades have been intentional about their predatory targeting of Black communities. Black, Indigenous, and communities of color are already denied equitable access to social, political, and economic systems which produce inequitable and preventable negative health outcomes. 

This is an industry rooted in racism, white supremacy, and nefarious capitalism. The colonialist and extractive production models used by tobacco producers had detrimental effects on Black, Brown, and Indigenous people at its origins. Today, Big Tobacco actively continues to disrupt community health initiatives meant to improve health outcomes for profit.  

In 1964, after a report by the U.S. Surgeon General about the hazardous health impacts of smoking and subsequent federal laws limiting smoking and tobacco advertising, tobacco companies shifted their marketing to target Black communities across the country. Big Tobacco had lost their biggest youth demographic, as they were banned from advertising in colleges or from handing out loose cigarettes on campus to students under 21.  

The industry thrives due to strategic co-optation of community leadership whenever it can. Tobacco industries deployed a multi-pronged effort to prey on Black communities by working with Black influencers, handing out free cigarettes through bellhops or barber shops, and funding political campaigns or supporting Black causes. Tobacco businesses have for years tried to create fake cultural affinities like the advertising campaigns for Kool Jazz Festivals with icons such as Dizzy Gillespie.  

Tobacco companies went as far as appropriating #BlackLivesMatter, Juneteenth, and used Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. quotes in their product advertising a couple of years back. Their marketing has been a shallow and peformative public relations strategy to buy good will and actively undermine or discredit the systematic harm tobacco perpetuates. 

In 2009 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned flavored cigarettes, yet menthol cigarettes slipped by due to a split in the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). A recent survey found that 85% of Black smokers preferred menthol cigarettes. Many in congressional leadership at the time received support and donations from tobacco companies.  

States like California have been taking strong steps to disrupt Big Tobacco’s assault on Black communities. This past November, Californians voted to support Proposition 31 and uphold Senate Bill 793, authored by former Senator Jerry Hill. Once SB 793, a bill to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products and tobacco product flavor enhancers, was signed into law, Big Tobacco immediately jumped into action to delay the implementation of the law by referendum. California voters saw through this self serving and dangerous ploy and voted in favor of keeping the law, with 63.42% voting to do so. In California, flavored tobacco including menthol flavors remain banned. The industry immediately shifted to introduce new cooling non-menthol tastes.  

In response, the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council (AATCLC) and California Attorney General, Rob Bonta sent warning letters to RJ Reynolds and Imperial Tobacco Group Brands to stop these new products from harming Black communities.  

AATCLC Co-Chair Dr. Phillip Gardiner proclaimed that this violated the state’s law prohibiting the sale of flavored tobacco, “we will not sit by as tobacco companies work to continue their assault on the health of Black people.” 

Big Tobacco is just one example of an issue at the intersection of public health and racial justice. Thankfully, lawmakers, advocates, community groups, and voters came together to call out their predatory and harmful practices. When we come together, we can stop special interests and protect the health and well-being of Californians.  

Western Center Reactions to Supreme Court Rulings on Affirmative Action

Western Center Reactions to Supreme Court Rulings on Affirmative Action  

On June 29th, 2023, the Supreme Court announced their long-awaited rulings on race-based college admissions. In an unsurprising, yet still deeply disappointing move, the court ruled affirmative action as unconstitutional. Western Center is guided by our North Star: “we seek to eliminate poverty and advance racial and economic justice by dismantling and transforming systems so all communities in California can thrive.” To do so, we must acknowledge the painful and persistent history of racism in our nation and its continued impact on the people we serve, permeating health, housing, public benefits, and access to justice. We will continue our righteous work for equity and justice in the face of these challenges. 

Below are reactions from Western Center staff and interns on this ruling: 

“I am deeply disappointed and downright angry about the Supreme Court’s decision to overrule its prior precedent permitting race to be one of many factors used in the higher education admissions process. It is quite profound that this historic blow hit us on the same day as the release of the historic CA Reparations Task Force final report. We weep and we rejoice simultaneously! We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes! I’m grateful for all the social justice warriors making a difference every day! Keep fighting the good fight! We need you!” 

  • Crystal D. Crawford, Executive Director   

“We cannot allow six people to facilitate further backsliding and complicity in bowing to anti-Black forces. Western Center on Law and Poverty fights for equity and representation in our own workplace, and in the courts, capitol, counties, and beyond. This may set us back, but it will not stop us from finding new ways to continue pushing for that equity/representation, and reparations. For this to work, we need to stop seeing affirmative action and reparations as ‘taking’ from one group and ‘giving’ to another. Just look at what happened in California after Prop. 209, and how without affirmative action things got worse, even if institutions innovated and adapted.” 

  • David Kane, Senior Attorney  

“As an Asian American, I am disappointed and saddened by the central role that a few in my community have played to defeat the use of race conscious admissions in higher education. Many Asian Americans have benefitted and continue to benefit from the use of affirmative action, not just in education but in spaces like employment and government contracting. To deny that history is ignorant. I want to offer that today’s Supreme Court decision is not reflective of the opinions of all Asian Americans, and we will continue to stand with our fellow BIPOC students and communities to ensure there is truly equal opportunity for all.” 

  • Helen Tran, Senior Attorney  

“Refusing to acknowledge or address racism and the need for remedies to address historic discrimination under the guise of ‘colorblindness’ and ‘equal protection’ instead continues to deprive ALL students of the benefit that results by providing a way to help reverse historic discrimination by providing for a diverse student body. The decision entrenches ‘racial inequality in education, the very foundation of our democratic government and pluralistic society…. racial inequality will persist so long as it is ignored,’ wrote Justice Sotomayor in a powerful dissent.” 

  • Jodie Berger, Senior Attorney  

While the Supreme Court’s majority ruling on affirmative action today was expected, it makes it no less disappointing and painful. Our work at the Western Center shows us every day that our society needs to take affirmative steps to counter the persistency of anti-Blackness and racism, not only in education, but in housing stability and opportunity, in health care access and care, in economic and financial security, and access to justice. As Justice Jackson says in her powerful dissent, “deeming race irrelevant in law does not make it so in life.” I take some comfort from Justice Sotomayer’s wise words: “Notwithstanding this Court’s actions, however, society’s progress toward equality cannot be permanently halted. Diversity is now a fundamental American value, housed in our varied and multicultural American community that only continues to grow. The pursuit of racial diversity will go on. And our pursuit of racial justice goes on.” 

  • Nisha Vyas, Senior Attorney  

“It’s ironic that on the same day that the California Reparations Task Force released a comprehensive report documenting the historical, present and ongoing discrimination faced by students in marginalized communities who seek the promise of higher education, the Supreme Court in Students for Fair Admissions, Inc v. President and Fellow of Harvard College issued a decision that espouses a “‘colorblind society.” This decision will have a profoundly negative effect on institutions of higher education to eliminate barriers of discrimination and increase opportunities for underrepresented Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people. The Supreme Court’s recent decisions have given license to discriminate against marginalized communities. Now more than ever we must take up the social justice fight of those who came before us and stand against these repressive policies and decisions.”  

  • Sandra O. Poole, Policy Advocate 

“While grieving the recent SCOTUS decision on affirmative action I reflected on my own journey to law school. As a first-generation minority student, I am the first in my family to attend a four-year university and graduate. I am also the first in my family to go to graduate school and I am going to be the first lawyer in my family. My college education means everything to me and my family. For students like me, a college education is not just about education. It’s about breaking out of the cycle of poverty and inspiring those who may come after me. In fact, I have chosen to use my education in political science and criminal justice to uplift those voices that have been traditionally unheard. Speaking from experience, affirmative action is so much more than considering race in admissions. Affirmative action is not giving a seat away or turning down an equally qualified candidate just because they are not a minority. Affirmative action is giving minority students a chance to even be considered. Additionally, affirmative action gives non-minority students a more enriching college experience by adding different life perspectives into classroom discussion. Young people today are becoming a powerful voice in politics and in their own education. Today’s SCOTUS decision does not reflect the voices of the young people who will be affected. Instead, today’s decision reflects the recent warfare on public education. My heart goes out to the prospective students who may come after me.” 

  • Selena Sanchez, Law Clerk