Tackling Proposition 209 for the first time in a decade, the California Supreme Court on Monday left intact the state’s ban on affirmative action in public programs.
In a 6-1 ruling, the Supreme Court upheld the 1996 voter-approved law, in the process invalidating a 7-year-old San Francisco ordinance designed to aid minority- and women-owned businesses in the contracting process. The majority opinion, written by Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar, reinforced past state and federal court rulings that have kept Proposition 209’s tight limits on public affirmative action programs in place across California.
The justices left open the possibility that San Francisco officials could still salvage the law in the trial court if they can prove it is the only possible way to fix entrenched discrimination in the city’s contracting programs, but overall rejected San Francisco’s argument that Proposition 209 is unconstitutional, the first time the state’s high court has addressed that question directly. Justice Carlos Moreno dissented, concluding that laws such as San Francisco’s should be permissible to correct discrimination, given the political difficulty of overturning or curtailing Proposition 209 at the ballot box.