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Supreme Court Will Not Block California's Proposition 209

By Joan Biskupic
The WashingtonPost
Washington

The Supreme Court Thursday refused to block a California law that prohibits racial preferences in government hiring and school admissions, rejecting arguments that the law be suspended immediately because it will cause upheaval in the state.

The justices did not say whether they will agree to hear a constitutional challenge to proposition 209. The American CivilLiberties Union and civil rights groups sought an immediate halt to enforcement of the law while the Court considers their request that the new law be struck down altogether.

California began implementing the law, which voters approved in November, only last week because of ongoing court challenges.

The groups say Proposition 209 would force municipalities to eliminate even race-based policies that were written to remedy past documented discrimination and that the high court has endorsed over the years.

The groups also argue that the new law strips local governments of their traditional authority to enact race- or sex-based preferential treatment, while still allowing governments to give preferences to other groups. As such, civil rights activists say, Proposition 209 infringes on the opportunity of women and racial minorities to fully participate in the political system and to seek favorable legislation.

Thursday's rejection of the request to block the law came in a one-sentence order with no justice dissenting. A decision on whether to review the merits of the constitutional challenge in Coalition for Economic Equity v. Wilson is likely to be made sometime in the upcoming weeks. The justices officially return from their summer recess on the first Monday in October.

The law forbids the state and its local governments from granting "preferential treatment"to anyone on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in public employment, education or contracting. The law is the first of its kind, but more than 20 states are currently working on similar measures.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals turned down arguments that the law impinges on the interest of minorities or women and on Aug. 26 rejected requests that it be stayed pending a Supreme Court appeal. It said the voter initiative was consistent with the goal of the Constitution's guarantee of equality:"When the government prefers individuals on account of their race or gender, it disadvantages individuals who belong to another race or gender,"the appeals court said. The 9th Circuit also refused to suspend the law while challengers took their case to the Supreme Court.

In asking the justices to intervene and block the law, civil rights groups had said there would be "upheaval at all levels of local and state government"if Proposition 209 were allowed to stay in effect then later repealed in some way because of a high court ruling.