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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  

Asian Americans Should Vote Yes on Prop 16. Here’s Why.

I’m Asian American, and I’m voting Yes on Proposition 16. I know that may seem contrary to stories out there about Asian American opposition to affirmative action, but the reality goes far beyond stereotypical narratives. In fact, there are many Asian Americans who support Prop 16 for very good reasons.

The Prop 16 ballot measure would restore affirmative action in public education, employment, and contracting. By repealing Prop 209, Prop 16 would allow state and local entities here in California to implement race-conscious affirmative action programs once again.

Prop 16 extends far beyond undergraduate admissions in higher education, which has occupied much of the public discourse on affirmative action. In this context, Asian Americans have become the mascot of anti-affirmative action campaigns, arguing that Asian Americans would be harmed in college admissions, and corralling Chinese Americans to sue universities for their affirmative action programs. Yet, in reality, Asian American attitudes about affirmative action vary, and surveys show a majority of Asian Americans do support affirmative action, myself included.

I also support affirmative action as a health advocate. Asian Americans lean progressive as a voting base, which means they are largely interested in improving and expanding access to health care. The majority of Asian Americans believe health care is a very or extremely important issue this election season and that the government should expand health coverage to all people regardless of immigration status.

Affirmative action has its place in the progressive health care agenda.

The health care system involves public education, employment, and contracting—three areas where Prop 16 would restore affirmative action. Take for example, the six University of California medical schools. These are training grounds for California’s future health care workforce, and hubs of medical innovation. We need a racially diverse medical student body to have a physician workforce that provides culturally competent care to our communities. We also need a racially diverse medical student body to train researchers who will conduct studies that take into account non-White subjects and replace outdated racist models.

Despite the current existence of diversity programs in each UC medical school, UC San Diego had only 13 Latinx students out of an entering class of 134 students, and UC Irvine had five Black students and seven Latinx students out of a class of 104 students. Together, Black, Latinx, and Native American faculty make up only about 8% of U.S. academic medical centers, a rate that has stayed just about the same since Prop 209 was passed nearly 25 years ago in California. These statistics are widely disproportionate with the state’s demographics, where Latinx people comprise 39% of the state population, Black people are 7%, and Native Americans are 2%.

Prop 16 would allow UC medical schools to target outreach and recruitment directly to Black, Latinx, and Native American groups, as well as underrepresented Asian American ethnicities, and allow the schools to consider race explicitly in their student admissions and faculty hiring. This does not mean admissions and hiring criteria will be lowered for certain racial and ethnic groups, and it does not mean quotas will be set aside for certain groups.

The Medi-Cal program is another health care example. Government contracting is a large source of income and jobs in communities; the California Department of Health Care Services contracts with third-party vendors to operate significant parts of Medi-Cal. Minority-owned businesses face several structural barriers in winning procurement bids, like having less working capital and the ability to meet high insurance bonding requirements, and existing in different social networks.

Prop 209 made it unlawful in California to run race-conscious government procurement programs that would remove some of these structural barriers. Without repealing Prop 209, the state remains unable to directly target outreach and set contracting targets for minority-owned businesses. The Equal Justice Society estimates a $1 billion to $1.1 billion loss per year for women and minority business enterprises due to Prop 209.

Medi-Cal contracting also involves services for building and maintaining IT systems, evaluating medical billing claims, and creating consumer outreach material, among other functions. Under Prop 209, contracts continue to be awarded to primarily white-owned and operated corporations. In April 2020, the state selected Deloitte in a $12.1 million bid as the vendor to develop the new CalSAWS system, a statewide IT system that would centralize case management for all welfare programs including Medi-Cal. Deloitte beat out minority-operated businesses such as Alluma, which offered costs at half the rate of Deloitte. Similarly, DHCS has consistently selected the behemoth government contracting service, MAXIMUS Federal Services, Inc. to administer many Medi-Cal functions.

By examining how affirmative action could create a more equitable health care system, it becomes clear that there is so much more to the affirmative action debate than Asian American undergraduate admissions. Affirmative action impacts economic opportunities for all underrepresented minorities. Black, Latinx, Native American, and Asian American businesses stand to benefit, as do racial and ethnic minorities working in government. Affirmative action also impacts who designs our health care systems and who works in the health care system. This, in turn, determines the medical treatment available for different communities.

So many of us are outraged by the racial disparities unveiled by the COVID-19 pandemic this year. Asian American families, alongside other families of color, have lost grandparents to the virus in nursing homes, and we worry for family members who continue to report to low-wage jobs without PPE and regular testing. Low-income Black and Latinx Californians are dying at higher rates than high-income white Californians. These health disparities, as much as they are tied to disparities in underlying conditions, are tied to poverty, a direct function of income and wealth. Better health care and better job opportunities are the solutions we need to create a more equitable California. Prop 16 offers one solution in that direction.

Many of us, including myself, were not of voting age in 1996 when Prop 209 was passed. Or, we might have voted for it without realizing its ramifications in the ensuing decades and during a global pandemic. We’ve arrived at a moment now and we should take it head on: vote Yes on Prop 16.

Go to https://voteyesonprop16.org/why-prop-16 for more information and read the text of the proposed law. Learn more about the longstanding work of the Equal Justice Society to repeal Prop 209 and restore affirmative action in California. View more resources and actions to take with Chinese for Affirmative Action.

Western Center’s 2020 Proposition Guide

Californians are voting on important propositions on the 2020 California ballot right now. We know it’s confusing, so below you’ll find our guide to the propositions. All of our work, and how we see these propositions, centers around creating greater economic and racial justice, especially for people in California oppressed by poverty.

For more information to help navigate the propositions, we highly recommend the CalMatters proposition guide. If you prefer video, they have one-minute video explanations of each.

*For a PDF of this document, click here.                

PROPOSITION BREAKDOWN


PROPOSITION 14: $5.5 Billion Stem Cell Research Bond

Western Center Position: No Position


PROPOSITION 15: Schools and Communities First

Prop 15 is widely referred to as the property tax split roll. In 1978, voters approved Prop 13 which limited property taxes on all property owners, both commercial and residential, by capping taxes at 1.1 percent of the value of the property at the time it was purchased. While Prop 13 is often viewed as untouchable politically, in truth it is a major source of wealth inequality and a prime example of structural racism, because it keeps taxes permanently low for those who are long time property owners (overwhelmingly white), but imposes a higher tax on those who bought property more recently (increasingly people of color). Prop 15 would not fix all the problems created by Prop 13 but it would fix one, by setting commercial property taxes based on the current value of the property, not the original sale price. This would increase property taxes by $6.5 billion to $11.5 billion annually. 60 percent of this would go to cities, counties, and special districts and 40 percent would go to schools.

Western Center Position: YES

Prop 15 would take the first step toward restoring fairness to California’s property tax system. It would provide significant revenue which can be used for affordable housing, eliminating homelessness, and providing public benefits. It would increase funding for K-14 schools. It would make it easier for new business to compete with established businesses by making all businesses pay taxes based on market rates.


PROPOSITION 16: Repeal Ban on Affirmative Action 

This measure would reverse a 1996 initiative approved by California voters to ban the use of affirmative action in all forms of state and local government. Affirmative action is the practice of establishing certain criteria that allows consideration of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in public education, public employment, and public contracting. The goal of affirmative action is to ensure that all people, regardless of their background, have a meaningful opportunity to benefit from government programs. In practice, affirmative action is intended to level the playing field and reduce the effects of explicit and implicit bias.

Western Center Position: YES

Western Center supported the bill when it was under consideration in the Legislature because it is consistent with our long standing principles of ensuring that California is an inclusive and equitable state. California, like the rest of the United States, was formed on a foundation of explicit white supremacy and patriarchy in law and society, which means active policies are required to obtain balance. The more that all segments of our community have the opportunity to receive the benefits of government, the less likely it is that bias will continue to be prevalent.

Western Center staff attorney Helen Tran explains more in this blog post.


PROPOSITION 17: Right to Vote for People Who Were Formerly Incarcerated

This measure would allow Californians with a prior felony criminal conviction to be able to vote in California. Currently, a person convicted of a felony cannot vote while incarcerated or on parole. If a formerly incarcerated person on parole registers to vote or votes, that can be grounds to revoke their parole and return them to prison, even if they are otherwise abiding by all other terms of their parole. The current law acts as an additional punishment on the formerly incarcerated after they have served their time and deprives them of a fundamental right of all citizens.

Western Center Position: YES

Western Center supported this bill when it went through the Legislature because current law disenfranchises people from exercising the fundamental right to vote. As we know from our work, the history of racism in our country has led to over-policing of communities of color. Thus, this law disproportionally impacts Black and Brown communities and dilutes their voting power.


PROPOSITION 18: Right to register to vote at age 17

As it currently stands, a person can register to vote in California if they’re a U.S. citizen at least 18 years old and a resident of the state. Registered voters can also run for elective office as long as they meet all other eligibility requirements. A person can pre-register to vote when they are either 16 or 17 years old. When a person pre-registers, they are automatically registered to vote when they turn 18. If passed, Prop 18 would allow eligible 17-year-olds who will be 18 by the next November general election to vote. Those 17-year-olds could vote in any special election or primary election before the next general election. The measure also means that 17-year-olds who turn 18 by the next general election could run for office if they meet all other eligibility requirements.

Western Center Position: YES

People decide who will be on the November ballot in primaries earlier in the year. People old enough to vote in November should have the opportunity to make that initial choice for the November ballot in the primaries, even if they’re still 17. There are also studies that show that pro-voting initiatives like this encourage greater voter participation among young people, which is crucial for engaging younger generations into the political process.


PROPOSITION 19: Change in Property Tax Rule

This initiative makes changes to property taxes when people move or inherit property. Currently, persons over age 55 and those living with disabilities can move to another home and not see their taxes go up if the new property is equal to or less than the house they moved from. This initiative would expand the ability of older and disabled property owners to move and not pay higher taxes. It limits the ability of people to inherit property unless an inheriting family member lives at the property or if the property is worth more than $1 million more than the assessed value of the house. Overall, the measure would result in increased revenue of tens of millions annually. This revenue would go to fire protection and schools.

Western Center Position: No Position

While this measure would result in some increased revenue it would not provide meaningful resources for health, welfare and housing programs. Proponents have asked Western Center to support but most major progressive groups are not supporting the measure.


PROPOSITION 20: Restores Crimes and Limits Early Release

This initiative proposes to repeal portions of criminal reform initiatives passed by voters (Prop 47 in 2014 and Prop 57 in 2016). If approved, Prop 20 would reinstate certain theft crimes as felonies instead of misdemeanors, and make it harder for people convicted of felonies to be approved for parole. It also expands collection of DNA samples from people charged with crimes, and from youth.

Western Center Position: NO

This measure would disproportionally and negatively impact people of color and low income Californians. In a time when large segments of the population are seeking a reduced criminal justice footprint, this initiative is moving in the opposite direction. Increasing the number of people with felony convictions will harm individuals, communities, and ultimately, our entire society, by making reentry into community much harder. It’s harder to get a job and find a place to live with a felony conviction, and as it stands now and unless Prop 17 passes, people with felony convictions who are in prison or on parole can’t vote. This initiative will needlessly place more people into these oppressive circumstances, exacerbating California’s existing income and racial inequality and its housing/ homelessness crises, which means greater instability for our state.


PROPOSITION 21: Reduce State Limits on Local Rent Control  

This measure proposes to make several changes to a state law known as the Costa-Hawkins Act. That law strictly limits how local governments can control the cost of rental housing. It bars rent control on most single family homes, bars rent control on units built after 1995, and allows landlords to increase rent on a unit whenever a tenant moves out. Western Center was a major opponent of this law when it was proposed and has remained so for the past 25 years. Prop 21 proposes to modify the Costa Hawkins Act by allowing rent control on units that are older than 15 years, including some single family homes, and it allows local governments to restrict rent increases on units when a tenant moves out.

Western Center Position: YES

A similar measure was on the 2018 ballot but failed. Since then there has been a spike in rent across California and significant increases in homelessness. With COVID-19 causing many tenants to be unable to pay the high cost of rent in California, it is necessary to pass meaningful limits on rental housing costs.


PROPOSITION 22: Repeals Worker Protections for App-based Rideshare Workers

This measure proposes to repeal a portion of AB 5 that was passed by the Legislature last year to require that companies employing so called “independent contractors” instead classify workers as employees. Doing so means the companies must provide basic worker protections like unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, health coverage, minimum wage, sick pay, overtime and social security. Large internet based corporations like Lyft, Uber, and Door Dash are proposing to eliminate these protections provided in AB 5. Western Center supported the bill because many drivers for these companies are not receiving a fair wage or minimum worker protections. When they are unable to drive, they are often left with nothing because as independent contractors, their employers are not required to pay into these systems. As a result, they often end up on public assistance and in crisis, meanwhile the companies experience record profit. Prop 22 would allow workers to remain independent contractors, and proposes that in lieu of traditional employee benefits, rideshare workers receive a menu of watered down worker protections.

Western Center Position: NO

Income inequality is quickly becoming one of the most important issues of our time. The average pay of corporate CEOs is now 321 times more than the typical worker they employ. The use of independent contractors is accelerating this trend by allowing companies to keep money normally used to provide basic employment services for themselves. App based companies are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to pass Prop 22, which is money they could be spending on basic worker protections, since workers make the companies possible.


PROPOSITION 23: Kidney Dialysis Requirements

Western Center Position: No Position


PROPOSITION 24: Use of Personal Data by Private Business

This measure makes a host of changes to California law regarding how personal information collected by corporations and data firms can be used and shared. This bill overrides elements of a 2018 “landmark” privacy law that limited the use of data sharing. Significantly, Prop 24 allows data collectors to use “neighborhood scores” in determining a person’s credit worthiness, which means a person’s credit could be lower because of the community they live in. Prop 24 reduces the number of companies subject to the law. It takes regulation for privacy breaches away from the state Attorney General and shifts it to a newly created state agency with capped funding. It also limits the ability of the Legislature to decide how penalties collected by the state can be used by earmarking most penalty funds away from the General Fund.

Western Center Position: NO

A host of consumer organizations are opposing this measure and they have asked Western Center to join them in opposing. Some background context: a wealthy developer named Alastair Mctagart pulled a privacy initiative off the ballot in 2018 after the Legislature passed a privacy bill; he then submitted a new initiative that both strengthens and weakens the existing law. Western Center supports strong consumer protections and believes the legislative process, not the proposition process, is the appropriate forum for making changes to the law.


PROPOSITION 25: Repeal State Law Eliminating Money Bail

Prop 25 is a referendum to overturn a bill, SB 10, which was passed in 2018 by the Legislature to eliminate the use of the money bail system in California. Under the money bail system, judges allow people to be released from jail before trial if they pay a bond to secure their appearance at trial. Many people can’t afford bond and turn to bail bonds agencies to pay; people are then required to pay the agency 10 percent of the bond amount. That amount is non-refundable even if the person is acquitted or the charges are dropped. Data shows that the money bail system benefits those with wealth who can afford their own bail, while people with fewer resources often languish in jail for lengthy periods of time. In 2018 the Legislature passed SB 10 to eliminate this system and replace it with a system of release based on a “risk assessment” tool. Under this bill, the financial resources of the accused are not a factor in their release. Western Center was a co-sponsor of SB 10.

Western Center Position: YES

To support the bill that was passed to eliminate money bail, a person must vote “Yes.” The referendum is essentially asking you to consider this as if you were a legislator deciding to support the bill. Western Center co-sponsored SB 10, and now urges a “Yes” vote for Prop 25. We understand the very real concerns about replacing money bail with the “risk assessment” algorithm system, as there is noted bias in that system. However, we feel it’s likely that this is the only real opportunity to eliminate money bail in California, which disproportionately harms communities of color. If Prop 25 passes, it will be easier to address imperfections in the algorithm system than it will be to get the Legislature to take up ending money bail again.

Western Center policy advocate Jessica Bartholow explains more in this blog post.


  

 

 

 

 

 

 

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