The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  & The Leadership Conference Education Fund
The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition
Civil Rights Monitor - Volume 17, No. 1 - Winter 2007

New Threats to Affirmative Action

The dust had hardly settled around the 2006 decision by Michigan voters to ban affirmative action programs in education, employment and contracting when supporters of affirmative action found themselves forced to combat similar attempts in other states.

On November 7, 2006, voters in Michigan approved a constitutional amendment effectively banning state affirmative action programs in higher education, employment, and contracting, making it the third state in the U.S. to approve such a ban. California and Washington approved similar laws in 1996 and 1998, respectively.

Leading the initiatives to ban affirmative action in all three states was California businessman Ward Connerly. Galvanized by the Michigan vote, in December 2006, Connerly announced that he would seek a "Super Tuesday" on election day in 2008, pursuing antiaffirmative action ballot initiatives in Colorado, Missouri, Arizona, Nebraska, and Oklahoma.

Petitions to ban affirmative action have been filed in all of these states. Connerly employed the same language in these petitions that he used in Michigan.

Opponents of Connerly's initiatives contend that their negative impact in California and Washington underscore the need to defeat further attempts to eliminate affirmative action programs.

Affirmative action supporters say that the states where petitions have been filed could be similarly adversely affected. Scholarships aimed at women and minorities could be terminated, as could state goals and plans to contract with minority- and women-owned businesses, supporters say.

The battle over affirmative action has been primarily focused at the state level, through ballot initiatives, but attacks have been stepped up at the national level in Congress and at the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR), the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Education, and the Department of Justice.

In 2007, Rep. Timothy Walberg, R. Mich., proposed an amendment to the Department of Defense appropriations bill that would have banned affirmative action programs in defense contracting. The amendment was defeated by a 126-284 vote.

A few months later, Rep. Walberg introduced an amendment to the House version of the Department of Transportation (DOT) appropriations bill that would have ended the successful Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program at DOT. The Walberg provision was incorporated without a vote in the House, but the House and Senate conferees stripped it out of the bill. The conference report has been passed by the full House but has not yet been considered on the Senate floor.

Affirmative action has also met with hostility at the USCCR, where several members are well-known opponents of the policy. The Commission has issued two reports in three years opposing affirmative action programs. Most recently, in 2007, it published a report that civil rights groups called an assault on affirmative action programs in law schools. The report, which recommended that the American Bar Association revise its diversity standard, was based on a flawed study, critics said.

"The Commission seems set on sabotaging the very mission it was designed to protect -- the enforcement of our civil rights laws," said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, when the report was released. "This report not only undermines the country's commitment to equal opportunity, it diminishes our highest ideals."

In what is seen as another threat, opponents of affirmative action have also requested that the Department of Justice and the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Education investigate programs at universities that are designed to grant equal opportunity to those who are underrepresented, such as minority scholarships.

Faced with state and federal attacks on affirmative action and equal opportunity programs, LCCR and its partners have renewed their efforts to outline a comprehensive strategy to identify allies at all levels and wage efforts to keep proposals like Connerly's off of state ballots.

The Civil Rights Monitor is an annual publication that reports on civil rights issues pending before the three branches of government. The Monitor also provides a historical context within which to assess current civil rights issues. Previous issues of the Monitor are available online. Browse or search the archives

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