California Affirmative Action in Education Amendment (2014)

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The California Affirmative Action in Education Amendment (Senate Constitutional Amendment 5) will not be on the November 4, 2014 ballot in California as a legislatively-referred constitutional amendment.

The proposed amendment would have deleted provisions in California Affirmative Action, Proposition 209 (1996), thus allowing preferential treatment in public education for individuals or groups based on race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin.

The measure was introduced into the California Legislature by State Senator Ed Hernandez (D-24).[1]




  • Sen. Hernandez (D-24) noted that minority student representation in the UC and CSU systems has fallen since 1996. He argued, “A blanket prohibition on consideration of race was a mistake in 1996, and we are still suffering the consequences from that initiative today. You cannot address inequality by refusing to acknowledge it.”[2]
  • Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-33) argued that postsecondary educational enrollment should illustrate the state’s demographics, saying, “We need to ensure that the students reflect our changing population.”




  • XIV Foundation[3]
  • American Anhui Association of Scholars and Students[4]
  • Joint Chinese University Alumni Association of Southern California[5]


Richard D. Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, said that "liberals" should let Prop 209 stand. He argued:[6]

  • "First, under Prop. 209 California has adopted a whole host of terrific measures to boost racial diversity indirectly, mostly by looking at socioeconomic status. Schools have reduced their reliance on standardized test scores for admissions, banned legacy preferences for the children of alumni, encouraged more community-college transfers to four-year institutions, and created new outreach programs to high-poverty high schools. In part because of these efforts, UCLA and UC–Berkeley are far more socioeconomically diverse than most selective colleges... These steps helped accomplish what education is supposed to do—promote social mobility. But they are likely to disappear if universities can go back to recruiting by race."
  • "That helps explain why most universities create racial diversity by recruiting fairly advantaged students of all colors. Indeed, one study found that 86 percent of African-Americans at selective colleges were middle- or upper-class, while the white students were even richer. To their credit, universities care about racial diversity, perhaps because the lack of it is visible. But they generally do not aggressively pursue socioeconomic diversity except where race has been taken off the table and recruiting low-income students is the next best way to achieve racial diversity."
  • "The second major reason that liberals should be concerned about a return of racial preferences is the one raised by the Chinese-American protesters: The shift would hurt Asian-Americans, who have suffered their own history of discrimination."
  • He offered an alternative program to SCA 5: "So if SCA5 is not the right answer, what is?... One step would be to improve the state’s class-based affirmative action program by considering the net wealth of an applicant’s family, as opposed to only income. Coming from a low-wealth family is a real disadvantage in life, so students who perform well academically despite that obstacle are deserving of special consideration. Moreover, because wealth, unlike income, is handed down over generations, looking at net wealth helps capture the country’s history of slavery and segregation and will especially benefit African-Americans. Eighteen years after California became the first state to ban racial preferences, it should resist the urge to become the first to reinstate them. The state has better options."

Other arguments against the amendment include:

  • Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff (R-29) said, “This bill, the unintended consequence is that it actually allows our public schools to use race and gender and others to discriminate against students. Is that really where we want to go?”[2]
  • Sen. Joel Anderson (R-36) developed an alternative plan. He contended that decreasing domestic acceptances, both white and minority, in state universities was caused by increasing applications from international students. Therefore, state schools should limit the admissions of international students. SCA 5, unlike his plan, “doesn't create more space in our colleges and universities. It just rearranges the chairs on the Titanic.”
  • Jennifer Gratz, founder of the XIV Foundation, argued, "There is no doubt that affirmative action policies began with the best of intentions: for people to be treated without regard to race. But they have turned into policies that instead encourage administrators and politicians to treat people differently based on skin color, creating new injustices with new victims. Treating people differently to make up for inequalities or create diversity only reinforces inequality and deepens racial division."[3]
  • A group of Californian Chinese-Americans started a "We the People" petition to deem SCA 5 "unconstitutional" because the measure would restrict the admissions of Asian students to 13%. Currently, 36% of students at public universities are Asian.[4][7]
  • A Daily Kos member published an article concerning how such a measure would affect the Democratic Party in California. The writer said, “But the lesson should not be lost on Democrats. Asian [A]mericans have galvanized around this issue. Any heavy handed attempt to revive race based affirmative action will cause asian americans to storm out of the big tent and undo all the good work that we have done so far in cobbling together our delicate Democratic governing coalition here in California.”[8]

Path to the ballot

See also: Amending the California Constitution

The timeline for Senate Constitutional Amendment #5 was:[9]

  • December 3, 2012: Introduced into the California State Senate
  • January 30, 2014: Adopted in California State Senate
  • March 17, 2014: Assembly Speaker John Pérez (D-53) returned SCA 5 to the Senate without a vote in the Assembly. Pérez said he did so at the request of Sen. Hernandez, the bill's sponsor. Pérez said the bill did not have the two-thirds vote necessary to approve the measure in the Assembly. Sen. Ted Lieu (D-33) stated, "Without action in the Assembly, SCA 5 is dead for the year."[5]

See also

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