La Shawn Barber

California legislators ought to carry a copy of the state constitution in their pockets and refer to it when writing laws. It's a useful guide, laying out what the people have a right to do and what the government shall not do. For example, Article I, Section 31 reads in part:

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"The State shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting."

Thirteen years ago, 54 percent of voters passed Proposition 209, which added this language to the state's constitution. But legislators either are unaware or they just don't care. The latest attempt to circumvent the law is requiring race- and sex-based quotas in contracting. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who swore to uphold the constitution, signed into law a bill that directs state departments to award government contracts to the lowest responsible bidder subcontracting 15 percent of the work to minority-owned businesses and five percent to female-owned businesses. The contractor who fails to do so will be rejected, even if he's the lowest bidder. Perhaps Schwarzenegger should carry the constitution as well. Do he and his assistants read bills before he signs?

The Pacific Legal Foundation (PLE), an organization dedicated to keeping discrimination and preferential treatment out of government, filed suit against the state earlier this month, alleging that the law violated Article I, Section 31. Ward Connerly and the American Civil Rights Foundation are plaintiffs in the suit.

"These new quotas are a destructive and illegal attempt to pull California backward - back to a time when government routinely judged people by their skin color and sex," said Connerly, the man who spearheaded the Proposition 209 campaign. "By enacting Proposition 209, California voters said they wanted to move beyond that era of division, discrimination, and animosity. Unfortunately, the message still hasn't gotten through to many state lawmakers and, apparently, not even to the governor. The courts are going to have to instruct them that their constitutional duty is to defend equal rights and equal opportunity, not undermine them."


La Shawn Barber

Freelance writer La Shawn Barber blogs at the American Civil Rights Institute blog.