California's Proposition 187, the divisive ballot measure that sought to deny government services to illegal immigrants and that roiled state politics like few issues ever had, is dead.
Gov. Gray Davis (D) announced today that he has agreed not to appeal a federal court ruling last year that declared much of the measure unconstitutional. The decision ends five years of epic legal and political struggle over the issue, which became a symbol of national apprehension over illegal immigration.
California voters approved Proposition 187 in 1994, but it has never taken effect because civil rights groups have succeeded in blocking it in courts since its passage. The measure would have prevented illegal immigrants or their children from attending public schools or receiving public health care in the state.
Even mired in lawsuits, Proposition 187 has remained at the forefront of California's politics. It has galvanized the state's growing Hispanic electorate into an influential and largely Democratic voting force and it has frustrated many Republican candidates who once championed the measure in their campaigns.
Davis called today's announcement, which was made after several months of negotiations with civil rights groups opposed to the measure, a reasonable end to a battle that has been too expensive and too controversial--and also unnecessary because key parts of Proposition 187 are written in federal law.
"We have dissolved a divisive wedge issue in a way that is fair to the voters, the Constitution and the law," he said. "We have avoided years of divisiveness and costly litigation."
Since he took office in January as the first Democratic governor in California in 16 years, Davis has tread cautiously on resolving the fate of Proposition 187. In polls, a majority of Californians say that they still support the spirit of the measure, but it continues to outrage many of the Hispanic voters who helped sweep Davis and other Democrats into state office last fall.
Faced with a deadline this spring for deciding whether to appeal the most recent court ruling against Proposition 187, Davis angered both sides in the debate by taking the unusual step of asking a federal court to help mediate a compromise. That process has been underway for months, and today many of the same Hispanic leaders and civil rights groups that had been dismayed with the governor said they were pleased with the result. The decision makes it highly unlikely that the case will ever reach the U.S. Supreme Court.
"Today's action signals that the era of hate politics is truly over," said California Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante (D), who denounced the stance that Davis took on the measure this spring. "It's time to stand together and say in one loud voice that Californians are tired of wedge issues and culture wars."
Supporters of Proposition 187, meanwhile, accused Davis of using the mediation process with civil rights groups as a political shield and angrily said that he is ignoring the will of California's voters. Before the mediation began, Davis had said repeatedly that he did not favor implementing the measure--especially a provision to deny schooling to undocumented children--but that he might be required to by state law.
Lawyers for sponsors of the measure fought to be included in the mediation, but a federal judge denied them the right, saying the state would represent their interest at the bargaining table.
"Certainly we are not surprised that the governor has abandoned the appeal," said John Findley of the Pacific Legal Foundation, which represents the authors of Proposition 187. "All of the people in mediation were opposed to 187 and all of the supporters were excluded. The results are what you would expect when all sides agree."
As part of the agreement with civil rights groups to drop the Proposition 187 court case, Davis has pledged to enact only a few minor provisions of the ballot measure, such as creating criminal penalties in the state for manufacturing, selling or using phony citizenship documents. Davis also stressed that California would enforce the new rules in federal law on what benefits illegal immigrants can receive.
Special correspondent Cassandra Stern contributed to this report.