ACA-5 v.s. Proposition 209

John David

CounterCurrent: Week of 5/31


In 1996, California voters were faced with Proposition 209, an amendment to the California Constitution introduced “to prohibit public institutions from discriminating on the basis of race, sex, or ethnicity.” Predictably, supporters of the bill saw it as a means to preserve equality in admissions while opponents viewed it as just the opposite—it was but an episode in the larger affirmative action saga. Prop. 209 went on to narrowly pass with a 54.6% majority, banning preferences based on race, sex, and ethnicity within the state's government, colleges, and universities.

And it worked. The amendment did not only succeed in preventing admissions discrimination in California higher education, but also helped the very populations it was accused of hurting. According to a comprehensive study conducted by Charles Geshekter and published by the National Association of Scholars, 

“They [The applicants] were judged as individuals by their own character and merits, not by the color of their skin, their gender, or stereotypes. In the years since Proposition 209 was enacted, the gaps in California public employment rates between men and women, and between whites, blacks, and Hispanics have continued to narrow. Racial favoritism and gender preferences are not the reasons for the redistribution of public employment jobs, as the magnitude and nature of those shifts remain small.”

Proposition 209 was an unambiguous success and remains in law to this day. However, as Geshekter highlights, “the ‘diversity industry’ remains stubbornly unable to join the celebration.” And they’re not just refraining from celebrating—opponents of Prop. 209 are actively working to overturn the law and reinstate discriminatory admissions practices in California.

Enter Assembly Constitutional Amendment (ACA) 5, first introduced to the state assembly in January 2020. This new amendment is a direct challenge of Proposition 209 and will overturn it if passed in November. The National Association of Scholars strongly opposes ACA-5 on the grounds that it would give California colleges and universities license to discriminate between applicants on the basis of their race, sex, and ethnicity. 

This is wholly unjust and corrupts higher education at its core. It’s also unfair to the students who are granted or denied admission based on factors out of their control, while diminishing the importance of those that are.

In this week’s featured article, John S. Rosenberg at Minding the Campus examines the content and motivation of ACA-5, as well as the legal arguments for and against the amendment. He also places the amendment within the context of the 2020 presidential election and California State University's recent decision to eliminate its SAT/ACT requirement. Rosenberg writes:

“Democrats and their progressive allies never recovered from the shock produced by substantial majorities of voters in liberal states voting to prevent blacks and Hispanics (supported by their progressive followers) from bestowing preferential treatment on themselves, and they have been resisting that result from the very beginning. ...

Repealing Prop. 209, ACA 5’s black and Hispanic sponsors claim, will produce the magic of more ‘diversity’: ‘the destruction of stereotypes, the promotion of cross-racial understanding, the preparation of a student body for an increasingly diverse workforce and society, and the cultivation of a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry.’ The wonders of repeal will never cease.”

And yet we know this is simply not the case. Discriminatory admissions practices hurt all parties involved, including the very students they are designed to help. NAS stands against ACA-5, and we hope that you will join us with your support, and if possible, your vote.


CounterCurrent is the National Association of Scholars’  weekly newsletter, written by Communications & Administrative Associate John David. To subscribe, update your email preferences here.

Image: Tony Webster, Public Domain

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