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Supreme Court Decision Favors State's Affirmative Action Ban

By Joan Biskupic
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON

The Supreme Court Monday removed the last significant legal hurdle to California's statewide ban on affirmative action, rejecting a challenge by civil rights groups who had argued that the law was unconstitutional.

Campaigns to eliminate preferences based on race and sex are underway in several states, and people on both sides of the issue predicted the court's action would reinvigorate those efforts. Voters in Houston, the nation's fourth-largest city, are deciding Tuesday whether the local government should abandon such long-standing preferences in the area of public contracting.

When the initiative passed last year, California became the first state in the country to abolish affirmative action in a variety of state programs, from hiring and college admissions to government contracting. The controversial measure drew national attention and was stopped from taking effect for nearly a year while it was challenged in court.

By deciding not to accept the case Monday, the Supreme Court left in place a lower court ruling that found Proposition 209 constitutional. That ruling stressed that when the government gives an advantage to individuals based on their race, it penalizes people who belong to another race. Civil rights groups claimed the law unfairly stripped local governments in California of their traditional authority to help minorities.

Monday's Supreme Court action, while not a ruling on the merits of Proposition 209, was a powerful signal, especially in light of a recent string of high-court rulings that have served to limit the scope of race-based government policies.

"You would have to be living on a different planet not to think this is a very significant decision," said Ward Connerly, who spearheaded the fight for California's Proposition 209 and said he now spends about a third of his time traveling to other states to help activists with similar initiatives.

"This is a green light to all the other states that want to copy Proposition 209," said Stanford law professor Kathleen M. Sullivan, who had helped the American Civil Liberties Union in its challenge to the California measure.