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News Briefs I

Federal Judge to Rule Soon On California's Proposition 209

Los Angeles Times

A federal judge who was asked to block enforcement of California's Proposition 209 assured lawyers Monday that he will base his decision on constitutional issues, not on the merits of affirmative action.

U.S. District Judge Thelton E. Henderson, a former civil rights lawyer, promised a ruling "very soon" after closely questioning lawyers at a hearing that lasted more than three hours.

"This case is not about whether affirmative action is right or wrong," said Henderson, a liberal whom Gov. Pete Wilson wants to step aside to allow a state court to rule first.

Rather, Henderson said, he will examine only constitutional questions "to determine whether it is appropriate to continue the pre-election status quo."

Lawyers representing a coalition of Proposition 209 opponents argued that the ballot measure that seeks to end government preferences denies equal protection to women and minorities because they will no longer be able to ask for state programs to address discrimination.

The lawyers also contended that the measure improperly usurps federal anti-discrimination policies.

But lawyers for California retorted that the proposition simply bars all discrimination and pointed to a provision that would allow state agencies to continue an individual affirmative action program if federal funds would be lost without it.