EJS Continues its Work to Expand Equal Opportunity

By Sara Jackson

The Equal Justice Society continues its efforts to challenge Proposition 209, and advocate for the continued importance of equal opportunity policies and programs.

Over the past several months, EJS and the Impact 209 Coalition collaborated with Drew Westen of Westen Strategies and Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners to conduct messaging and polling research regarding Californian’s feelings about diversity, inclusion and affirmative action.

Although the results evidenced a wide range of opinions and some mixed feelings, they also indicated general appreciation of California’s diversity, and some willingness to support programs aimed at expanding opportunities for marginalized groups.

In the coming year, we hope to conduct further polling to assess the viability of amending or repealing Proposition 209 (which outlaws equal opportunity policies and programs in the state, and has been in effect since 1996), and utilize our current messaging results to support efforts to expand equal opportunity programs across the country.

EJS also played an integral role in persuading Attorney General Jerry Brown to publicly declare Proposition 209 unconstitutional.

Attorney General Brown was asked by the California Supreme Court to advise them about the constitutionality of Prop 209, in response to a case involving the validity of outreach programs designed to expand opportunities for women and minority owned businesses (Coral Construction, Inc. v. City and County of San Francisco).

Under the leadership of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights (LCCR), EJS helped draft and submit a letter to the Attorney General outlining why 209 is unconstitutional, and the harm it has wrought to women and communities of color across California.

For instance, enrollment of Black, Latino and Native American students in the UC system has declined dramatically since Proposition 209 passed, and contracting dollars awarded to Women and Minority owned businesses have also decreased significantly.

In addition to submitting this letter, representatives from LCCR and EJS met with the Attorney General to press upon him the import and timeliness of this decision, particularly in light of the increasing diversity of our state. Ultimately, Attorney General Brown concluded that Proposition 209, through prohibiting all affirmative action, ultimately fosters the discrimination it was intended to eliminate – and should overturned to the extent that it is more restrictive than US Supreme Court precedent on affirmative action.

This holding was an enormous victory for EJS, our civil rights allies, and for women and communities of color in California. We’ll be watching closely as the Court hears oral arguments on this case next month!

Finally, EJS is working with the Fulfilling the Dream Fund (FDF) to convene an Equal Opportunity Strategy Session to help determine next steps for national advocates of race conscious laws and policies.

In 2008, EJS helped bring together a network of grassroots and national advocacy organizations to prevent Ward Connerly from passing anti-affirmative action initiatives in five states across the country. Now that the 2008 election cycle is over, and a new administration is in place, EJS is working with these organizational allies to map a proactive agenda for supporting and expanding equal opportunity policies and programs and productively talking about race and opportunity in America.

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