Politics & Policy

Winning Colorblind

Civil-rights ruling in Missouri.

With all eyes trained on Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary and last week’s Iowa caucus, a Missouri court earlier this week handed down a major win to supporters of colorblind government. As they attempt to pass a ballot initiative barring government preferences based on race, sex, or ethnicity, Ward Connerly and other campaigners had to fight in court to prevent their measure from being deliberately misrepresented on the ballot.

The question revolves around the wording that will be posed to voters in November. Normally, the Secretary of State is responsible for writing this copy, but Judge Richard Callahan’s ruling rejected the language proposed by Democratic Secretary of State Robin Carnahan. Instead, Judge Callahan adopted wording almost identical to what the initiative’s supporters had proposed.

Here is the court-approved language, only slightly different from the language proposed by the Missouri Civil Rights Iiniative’s backers:

Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to:

Ban state and local government affirmative action programs that give preferential treatment in public contracting, employment, or education based on race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin unless such programs are necessary to establish or maintain eligibility for federal funding or to comply with a court order?

Carnahan wanted to use this language instead:

Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to:

‐ Allow preferential treatment based on race, sex, color ethnicity, or national origin to meet federal program funds eligibility standards as well as preferential treatment for bona fide qualifications based on sex?

In his decision, Callahan — who is known as a liberal judge — called Carnahan’s rewording “troubling” because it implies that the initiative would create new “preferential treatment” programs, which it would not. It also implies that the program only bans preferential treatment for “women and minorities,” when in fact it would also ban preferential treatment for men and whites.

Backers of MCRI said that this was the first time in Missouri history that a judge has overruled the Secretary of State over ballot language for an initiative.

“It was a big victory,” said Connerly, who is also spearheading efforts to pass similar ballot measures in Arizona, Colorado, Nebraska, and Oklahoma this November. Connerly and his allies have faced stiff opposition in getting these measures on the ballot — particularly in Oklahoma, where state law requires an unreasonable number of signatures to be gathered over 90 days. (Click here to view efforts in Tulsa to inhibit and intimidate Oklahoma Civil Rights Initiative’s signature collectors.)

“Their strategy was to keep us off the ballot, said Connerly. “Failing that, the second objective is, try to impose language on us that the average voter would not support. They accuse us of misappropriating the language of the civil-rights movement. But the civil-rights movement was not in favor of preferences — it was about colorblindness, about treating people the same, regardless of race.”

Connerly’s movement has enjoyed quiet successes over the years. In 2006, he and others successfully pushed such a measure on the Michigan ballot in the wake of a 2003 Supreme Court ruling, Grutter v. Bollinger, that allowed the University of Michigan to discriminate on the basis of race in admissions decisions. Despite a vigorous union-backed campaign against it, the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative won in a 58-percent landslide. Similar measures passed in Washington State in 1998 and California in 1996.

What success the movement has enjoyed has come with little help from Republican politicians.

“No one,” Connerly said when asked about his supporters in the political world. “Giuliani has come the closest to supporting us,” he added — and even then, only indirectly. Connerly referred to Giuliani’s endorsement of a Supreme Court opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts, arguing against special programs that treat people differently depending on their race. “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race,” Roberts wrote.

Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign did not immediately respond to inquiries about the Missouri initiative. An official on John McCain’s campaign said that the Arizona senator opposes affirmative action, but has not taken a stance on this year’s ballot initiatives — including the one in his home state.

But whatever the politicians say — or fail to say — voters in four or even five more states will have a chance to end government racial and gender discrimination in November.

– David Freddoso is an NRO staff reporter.

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