Bench Memos

Law & the Courts

This Day in Liberal Judicial Activism—December 23

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1996—In Coalition for Economic Equity v. Wilson, federal district judge Thelton Henderson issues a preliminary injunction barring California officials “from implementing or enforcing Proposition 209 insofar as said amendment to the Constitution of the State of California purports to prohibit or affect affirmative action programs in public employment, public education or public contracting.”

Adopted by California voters in the November 1996 election, Proposition 209 provides that the state “shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.” Among other things, Henderson rules that the challengers to Proposition 209 “have demonstrated a probability of success on their claim that Proposition 209 violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection guarantee to full participation in the political life of the community.”

But, as a unanimous Ninth Circuit panel (in an opinion by Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain) will observe months later in reversing Henderson:

“A denial of equal protection entails, at a minimum, a classification that treats individuals unequally.… Impediments to preferential treatment do not deny equal protection.… That the Constitution permits the rare race-based or gender-based preference hardly implies that the state cannot ban them altogether.”

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