Education

California Democrats Want to Bring Racial Preferences Back

Students on the UCLA campus in 2009. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)
In 1996, Californians voted to end racial preferences at state universities. The Left has been fighting to restore them ever since.

Rather than focus on COVID-19 or the economic recovery, California liberals insist on pushing their pet issues. The “stimulus” bill rammed through the House this month by Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco was a liberal wish list of subsidies and spending. Now other California Democrats are ramming through an effort to repeal the state’s ban on racial preferences.

Two things often happen when a single political party dominates a state the way Democrats dominate California. First, an echo chamber of the dominant party convinces its leaders they can steamroll over any opposition. Second, that conviction leads to political overreach.

Caucasian Americans are now only 19 percent of UC students, down from 38 percent a quarter century ago — this change reflects the increasing ethnic diversity of Californians .

Next month, Golden State Democrats plan to use the two-thirds control they have in the legislature to push through a November ballot measure asking voters to end the ban on racial preferences.

They should remember what happened when this was attempted before. Last year, liberals in Washington State used a similar route to repeal that state’s version of Proposition 209, which had passed with 58 percent in 1998. Liberals vastly outspent opponents and won endorsements from leading establishment figures. But they still lost, as voters rejected preferential treatment 51 to 49 percent. Retrying that strategy in a highly visible California referendum would be dicey.

That’s also what California Democrats themselves concluded back in 2014.

The alternative — racial discrimination — is a sordid business. A lawsuit filed by Asian Americans against Harvard University has revealed just how arbitrary and subjective its admissions process really is. Asian-American voters are well aware their children face a rigged system at universities that don’t have Proposition 209 protections. Preferential treatment for some groups necessarily means discrimination against others.

All of this is likely to be exposed during any debate over ACA-5 — the California bill to repeal Prop 209. Asian-Americans will take the lead in opposing ACA-5, but a nationwide Pew Research poll last year found that majorities of all racial and ethnic groups say colleges should not consider race in admissions. Among Asian Americans, the opposition is 2 to 1 against.

In California, 14 percent of eligible voters are now Asian Americans (nationwide the number is 5 percent). By 2050, Asian Americans will account for a tenth of the nation’s voters and at least a fifth of California voters, according to Taeku Lee, a UC Berkeley scholar and a co-author of the National Asian American Survey.

Unusually high numbers of Asian Americans are neither Republicans nor Democrats. In California, about 40 percent are independents — the classic swing voter. In 2018, their swing to the Democrats was behind the party’s narrow capture of several ancestrally Republican House seats in Orange and Los Angeles Counties.

But they can swing back, as the special-election victory by Republican Mike Garcia for a vacant House seat in Los Angeles proved this month. Garcia won a ten-point victory, including a majority of independents.

“We’ve seen a lot more suspicion of liberal motives among Asians in Washington state since last year’s attempt to kill color-blind policies here,” John Carlson, a Seattle talk-show host and the original sponsor of Washington state’s color-blind college admission policy, told me. “People also know the liberals can now be beaten.”

Should liberals in California ignore the experience of their Washington State counterparts and push for the return of racial quotas, they will be stepping into a hornet’s nest.

While Asian Americans are a seventh of Californians, they represent 40 percent of University of California students.

“Those numbers are why bringing this issue forward now would inevitably divide Californians racially: Latino Americans and African Americans on one side, Asian Americans on the other,” former California congressman Tom Campbell, now an independent, wrote in the Orange County Register. “The politics are inescapably racial.”

California doesn’t need a new flare-up of racial division. Proposition 209 is working. As Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor Jr. show in their 2012 book, Mismatch: How Affirmative Action Hurts Students It’s Intended to Help, and Why Universities Won’t Admit It, Proposition 209, in the years immediately after its passage, had three effects on underrepresented minorities in the UC system. It increased 1) graduation rates, 2) grade-point averages, and 3) the number of science or engineering majors.

It’s true that some minority students shifted from the most elite UC campuses to other campuses. But as Gail Heriot, a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, noted in a piece for RealClearPolitics: “Happily, ‘matching’ students to the right institution made improvement possible on all three fronts. . . . . California legislators want to throw all that away and bring back an ugly spoils system.”

Many universities — fueled by white guilt – have long ignored the Civil Rights Act’s prohibitions on race discrimination. But we now know there are hidden nonwhite victims of that guilt, whether they be minorities who often drop out if mismatched with the wrong university or Asian Americans denied admission on the merits.

When Justice Sandra Day O’Connor provided the critical vote upholding the constitutionality of the University of Michigan’s racial preferences in 2003, she wrote that the Court expected that affirmative action would need to continue for only another quarter-century.

Liberals in California’s one-party state are on an ideological crusade to continue a racial spoils system forever. They should realize how much of the country disagrees with them and how the politics of the issue could once again surprise them and blow up in their face.

Most Popular

Media

The Unrelenting Assault on President Trump

There has never been a presidential campaign in the United States where the administration was so massively opposed by the principal media outlets as in this election. Nor, in at least a century, have the national political media so widely and thoroughly discarded the traditional criterion for journalistic ... Read More
Media

The Unrelenting Assault on President Trump

There has never been a presidential campaign in the United States where the administration was so massively opposed by the principal media outlets as in this election. Nor, in at least a century, have the national political media so widely and thoroughly discarded the traditional criterion for journalistic ... Read More
Education

Destroy the ‘Public’ Education System

‘Public” schools have been a catastrophe for the United States. This certainly isn’t an original assertion, but as we watch thousands of authoritarian brats tearing down the legacies of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, it’s more apparent than ever. State-run schools have undercut two fundamental ... Read More
Education

Destroy the ‘Public’ Education System

‘Public” schools have been a catastrophe for the United States. This certainly isn’t an original assertion, but as we watch thousands of authoritarian brats tearing down the legacies of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, it’s more apparent than ever. State-run schools have undercut two fundamental ... Read More
Culture

Two NFL Apologies

So Drew Brees defended the American flag and all it stands for, said he didn’t agree with kneeling for the national anthem and correctly described this gesture of open disrespect as disrespect. "Is everything right with our country right now?" said the Saints' future Hall of Famer. "No, it is not. We still have ... Read More
Culture

Two NFL Apologies

So Drew Brees defended the American flag and all it stands for, said he didn’t agree with kneeling for the national anthem and correctly described this gesture of open disrespect as disrespect. "Is everything right with our country right now?" said the Saints' future Hall of Famer. "No, it is not. We still have ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Chesterton’s Cops

Conservatives are big on “Chesterton’s fence.” That’s G. K. Chesterton’s principle that you cannot reform what you do not understand, that you should not for the sake of convenience knock down a fence until you understand why it was put up in the first place. When encountering a fence in his way, ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Chesterton’s Cops

Conservatives are big on “Chesterton’s fence.” That’s G. K. Chesterton’s principle that you cannot reform what you do not understand, that you should not for the sake of convenience knock down a fence until you understand why it was put up in the first place. When encountering a fence in his way, ... Read More
Culture

Why Progressives Wage War on History

Princeton University’s decision to remove the name “Woodrow Wilson” from its School of Public and International Affairs is a big win for progressive activists, and the implications will extend far beyond the campus. It hardly surprises me, in today’s polarizing environment, that my alma mater caved to ... Read More
Culture

Why Progressives Wage War on History

Princeton University’s decision to remove the name “Woodrow Wilson” from its School of Public and International Affairs is a big win for progressive activists, and the implications will extend far beyond the campus. It hardly surprises me, in today’s polarizing environment, that my alma mater caved to ... Read More
Regulatory Policy

Going Medieval

Writing in Bloomberg, Noah Smith gives more than a nod to Peter Turchin’s theory of elite overproduction (or, as Smith neatly relabels the phenomenon, “elite over-competition”) as a cause of the current wave of turmoil in the West, something with which I would agree but, I think, more emphatically. Quite ... Read More
Regulatory Policy

Going Medieval

Writing in Bloomberg, Noah Smith gives more than a nod to Peter Turchin’s theory of elite overproduction (or, as Smith neatly relabels the phenomenon, “elite over-competition”) as a cause of the current wave of turmoil in the West, something with which I would agree but, I think, more emphatically. Quite ... Read More

Canceled, &c.

There was a headline last week: “Boeing Communications Chief Resigns Over Decades-Old Article on Women in Combat.” Find the story here. It explains that “Niel Golightly abruptly resigned on Thursday, following an employee’s complaint over an article the former U.S. military pilot wrote 33 years ago ... Read More

Canceled, &c.

There was a headline last week: “Boeing Communications Chief Resigns Over Decades-Old Article on Women in Combat.” Find the story here. It explains that “Niel Golightly abruptly resigned on Thursday, following an employee’s complaint over an article the former U.S. military pilot wrote 33 years ago ... Read More
U.S.

Bad News about the Virus

On the menu today: an important update about indications that the coronavirus is now more contagious than it used to be, with far-reaching ramifications for how we fight this pandemic; a point on the recent complaints about the Paycheck Protection Program; and a new book for everyone closely following the debate ... Read More
U.S.

Bad News about the Virus

On the menu today: an important update about indications that the coronavirus is now more contagious than it used to be, with far-reaching ramifications for how we fight this pandemic; a point on the recent complaints about the Paycheck Protection Program; and a new book for everyone closely following the debate ... Read More