The Leadership Conference is working diligently to see that Tom Perez is confirmed as U.S. Secretary of Labor. Perez is an eminently qualified public servant and consensus builder who has dedicated his career to ensuring that all individuals are treated fairly and have the opportunity to succeed. He has served with integrity and distinction at the local, state and national level, compiling an outstanding record of achievement.
Affirmative Action Efforts Strong in 2003: Connerly Goes to Michigan
Feature Story by Ritu Kelotra - 1/13/2004Last year was historic for affirmative action.
After decades of controversy, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that use of affirmative action programs in higher education is legal. And in October 2003, Californians overwhelmingly rejected an initiative to outlaw racial data collection -- seven years after the same voters decided to outlaw affirmative action in the state.
On June 23, 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered its landmark ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger, concerning the University of Michigan Law School's admissions policies. In a 5 to 4 decision, the majority ruled that racial diversity was in fact a compelling state interest, and that the University of Michigan Law School's admissions policies were narrowly tailored to fit this compelling interest.
Writing the opinion of the court was Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who stressed the legitimacy of using race as a factor in applications.
"In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity," O'Connor wrote on behalf of the majority. "All members of our heterogeneous society must have confidence in the openness and integrity of the educational institutions that provide this training."
Karen McGill Lawson, executive director for the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund, saw the Bollinger ruling as a solid victory for affirmative action.
"It put affirmative action on a firm footing," she said. "It was a green light for affirmative action policies in higher education. Without that decision, a whole generation would have been negatively affected."
Only days after the June decision, opponents of affirmative action announced their intention to fight it. California businessman and University of California Regent Ward Connerly, who led the successful battle to ban affirmative action in California under Proposition 209 and Washington State in 1996, said he would spearhead similar efforts in Michigan and Colorado to put anti-affirmative-action referenda on the ballots.
William L. Taylor, vice chair of the Citizens' Commission on Civil Rights, said that it is important to note that opposition to affirmative action in recent years has not been expressed through legislation.
"Interestingly, attacks in recent years have been mainly been in courts and through state initiatives, but not legislative bodies," he said. "Even though there are conservative Republicans controlling Congress right now, they are not in the position to take ideological views. They know that our nation is too diverse."
For his part, Connerly was busy during the summer and early fall running a campaign to pass Proposition 54, which would have banned the state from collecting racial data in all but a few exempted areas. Although the measure was originally going to be on California's gubernatorial primary ballot in March, it was moved up to October's recall ballot. Those who opposed the measure said that a data collection ban would have damaged the state???s ability to address disparities by race or ethnicity in health care and disease patterns, educational resources and academic achievement, and hate crimes and discrimination.
Nancy Zirkin, deputy director for the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, saw Proposition 54 as part of the "mean wind" blowing against affirmative action.
"Proposition 54 was the son -- or daughter -- of Proposition 209," she said. "Basically it was a Step 2 to Prop. 209's Step 1. First the opposition wanted to ban affirmative action, and then they said let's get rid of the data which suggests that there are disparities and problems. Prop. 54 tried to ensure that the information that justifies affirmative action is done away with."
While the gubernatorial recall election took center stage in California's October election, Proposition 54 most certainly received a full billing. As soon as it was announced in mid-July that the measure would indeed be on the October ballot, both sides' efforts went into full swing.
And despite a tough fight, the numbers spoke for themselves. Ten weeks before the election, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that a Field Poll released in July indicated 50 percent of California voters supported the measure and only 29 percent did not. On Election Day, however, after voters had learned more about the measure, 64 percent of the voters opposed Proposition 54 and only 36 percent supported it.
"This is not just a great victory for the civil rights of all Californians, but also for preserving equal opportunity throughout the country," said Wade Henderson, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. "The coalition that opposed the measure, which included members inside and outside California, did a great job at uniting voters against an effective message -- Proposition 54 was bad for everyone."
Although efforts from the Connerly camp were strong, most anti-Proposition 54 groups agree that coordinated education is what stopped Connerly.
"The Prop. 54 victory proved that educating people about the issues is very important," Lawson said. "The numbers show that getting the right information out is crucial."
After the October vote, Connerly said that he plans to rewrite the measure to address concerns that Proposition 54 would have prevented collection of valuable, race related health data. The Bay Area's Contra Costa Times reported that after doing that, he will attempt to place the referendum on a future ballot.
So where does all of this leave the affirmative action debate? To understand the future of affirmative action policies, it is crucial to understand their past.
Affirmative action enforcement began in 1965 when President Lyndon Johnson issued Executive Order 11246, which required government contractors to "take affirmative action" toward prospective minority employees in all aspects of hiring and employment. The order also stated that contractors had to document these efforts. In October 1967, the order was amended to cover discrimination on the basis of gender.
"You do not take a person, who for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say 'you are free to compete with all the others,' and still believe that you have been completely fair," President Johnson said in a speech in 1965.
In 1978, the Supreme Court heard arguments for affirmative action in university admissions in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, and subsequently ruled that diversity is a compelling state interest.
Opponents of affirmative action programs, however, then took the stance that affirmative action is futile, asserting that the playing field was already level for all workers. And though congressional opponents of affirmative action made several attempts to roll back such programs in the mid-1990s, each attempt was defeated by broad, bipartisan majorities in both the House and the Senate.
In 1995, President Bill Clinton directed that a review be conducted of the federal government's affirmative action programs. Clinton directed his staff to report on what programs existed and to determine whether they worked and whether they were fair.
In their report, co-authors George Stephanopoulos, who was then a senior adviser for policy and strategy, and Christopher Edley, Jr., who was a special counsel to the President, determined that affirmative action programs, were, in fact, fair and advantageous.
"We conclude that these programs have worked to advance equal opportunity by helping redress problems of discrimination and by fostering the inclusion needed to strengthen critical institutions, professions and the economy," they wrote in the introduction. "The evidence shows that, on the whole, the federal programs are f