By Greg Lucas
SACRAMENTO (Reuters) - California Governor Jerry Brown on Saturday vetoed legislation that would have allowed California universities to consider race and gender in student admissions, even though Brown said he agreed with its goal.
The measure was the latest attempt to scale back, or repeal, so-called Proposition 209 approved by voters in 1996. It bars public agencies from considering race or ethnicity in everything from awarding contracts to accepting undergraduates.
"I wholeheartedly agree with the goal of this legislation," Brown wrote in his veto message.
But the Democratic governor said the courts should determine what should happen to Proposition 209.
For more than 15 years, Proposition 209 has prompted fierce debate. Opponents said it narrowed opportunities for women and minorities to succeed in California. Supporters countered that it simply created a system where individual ability was rewarded.
The California Supreme Court last August ruled that it was constitutional.
Republican students at the University of California, Berkeley recently took a satirical swipe at the proposed law vetoed by Brown by holding an affirmative action bake sale. They charged whites more for baked goods than other ethnicities.
Hundreds of student protesters rallied in opposition to the event.
The two main school systems that would have been affected by the law were the University of California and California State University.
According to University of California statistics for the fall of 2009, 32 percent of undergraduates were white, 3.5 African American, 16 percent Latino or Chicano and 30 percent Asian.
California State University statistics for 2009 showed 38 percent of its undergraduates were white, six percent African American, 13 percent Asian and 25 percent Latino or Chicano.
The figures may not add to 100 percent because of students who declined to give an ethnicity or those not counted such as international students.
Women outnumbered men in both systems with 53 percent of undergraduates at the University of California and 58 percent of the student body at California State University.
(Editing by Greg McCune)