California Assembly backs repealing affirmative action ban

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Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, rests her head on her hands as she listens to lawmakers discuss her measure to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot to let voters decide if the state should overturn its ban on affirmative action programs, during the Assembly session at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Wednesday, June 10, 2020. California has banned affirmative action-type programs since 1996 when 55% of voters agreed to amend the states Constitution to ban preferential treatment based on race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin..(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – A decades-long push to let California's public universities and government agencies consider race when making admissions and hiring decisions passed its first test Wednesday as more than two-thirds of the state Assembly voted to put the question on the ballot in November.

California has banned affirmative action-type programs since 1996 when 55% of voters agreed to amend the state’s Constitution to ban “preferential treatment” based on race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin.

That amendment has withstood multiple legal challenges and legislative attempts to change it. But this year, worldwide protests over racial injustice sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis have given supporters a boost in their quest to bring affirmative action back to California.

“I’m so grateful I didn't have to convince you that racism is real, because George Floyd did that,” Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, a Democrat from San Diego and the author of the proposal, told her colleagues moments before the vote.

The Assembly voted 58-9 to let voters decide whether to repeal the amendment. If the state Senate concurs by June 25, the question would be added to the November ballot — further intensifying an election year that already includes a presidential contest.

One Republican — Tom Lackey of Palmdale — joined 56 Democrats and one independent to put the amendment on the ballot. The nine “no” votes all came from Republicans. Twelve lawmakers did not vote.

The repeal effort faces strong, organized opposition among some in the Asian community. Wenyuan Wu, director of administration for the Asian American Coalition for Education, said Asian American students “have always been labeled as over represented in good schools.”

“We worry that the bill, once the bill is passed, that will give the state universities in California ample reason to use racial balancing to discriminate against us,” she said.