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Ninth Circuit hears education challenge to CA affirmative action ban

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] on Monday heard oral arguments from minority student advocates who urged the court to reconsider California's voter-approved ban on affirmative action based on race or gender preferences in education and state hiring. The ban, Proposition 209 [text], has been upheld by California courts as a race-neutral measure. Though the measure bars state and local agencies from considering race or gender in employment, contracting, and education, 55 applicants to the University of California (UC) schools of higher education and the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action (CDAA) [advocacy website] brought this lawsuit to challenge only the higher education element. The students and CDAA claim that affirmative action is needed [Mercury News report] to increase racial diversity at UC campuses and professional schools, and that data shows that UC's efforts to enroll diverse student populations without considering race have failed. On the other hand, Ralph Kasarda, who is defending Proposition 209 on behalf of the university system, argued that the lawsuit is "redundant and baseless," and that the measure "guarantees everyone's right to be treated fairly and not be discriminated against based on skin color or gender."

In October 2011, California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed [JURIST report; veto text, PDF] a bill [text, PDF] that would have effectively overturned Proposition 209 by allowing UC schools to consider demographic factors such as race during the admissions process. The Governor said in his veto message to the Senate that although he agreed with the bill's purpose, it is the role of the Ninth Circuit to decide Proposition 209's boundaries. Governor Brown previously contested [opinion letter, PDF; JURIST report] Proposition 209 in 2009 as California's Attorney General. The CDAA's suit was originally dismissed in December 2010 by the US District Court for the Northern District of California
[official website] in Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action v. Schwarzenneger [text, PDF].

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