The Washington Post

Asian-American state senators block proposal to reintroduce race preferences in California

CapitolAlert (Sacramento Bee) reports:

California voters will not be asked this year to decide whether to roll back California’s ban on racial preferences in college admissions, Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez announced Monday….

The move came a week after three Asian-American state senators — who had previously voted for SCA 5 — asked Pérez to put a stop the measure.

“Prior to the vote on SCA 5 in the Senate, we heard no opposition to the bill. However, in the past few weeks, we have heard from thousands of people throughout California voicing their concerns about the potential impacts,” Sens. Ted Lieu of Torrance, Carol Liu of La Canada Flintridge and Leland Yee of San Francisco wrote to Perez on March 11….

The proposal would have put on the ballot a constitutional amendment to repeal the public education portion of Prop. 209, which banned the use of race and sex preferences in public employment, education, and contracting. (Disclosure: I was a member of the legal team that helped draft Prop. 209.) Such race preferences have in recent years been used to favor black and Hispanic applicants (and, sometimes, Filipino applicants), and disfavor Asian and white applicants.

And, indeed, if one is looking for proportional representation, or a “University that looks like California,” then one would want to reduce the number of Asians at the most selective University of California campuses, since Asians are sharply overrepresented there. Even if one is looking for things such as “diversity,” the fact remains that, so long as a disproportionately high number of seats is taken by Asians, a disproportionately low number of seats will be taken by members of other racial groups. That’s true not just for blacks and Hispanics but also for non-Hispanic whites at many campuses. For instance, in 2013 non-Hispanic whites made up only 30 percent of non-international UC Berkeley freshmen — or 34 percent if you assume that all the “decline to state” students were white — while East and South Asians made up 48 percent. Non-Hispanic whites make up 39 percent of the California population, while Asians make up 14 percent.

Indeed, some backers of race preferences argued during the Prop. 209 debate that having too many Asian students is one of the problems that race preferences are supposed to fix. Thus, here’s President Bill Clinton, quoted in an exclusive interview with the Sacramento Bee, Leon Rennert [Bee Washington bureau chief], Sacramento Bee, Apr. 7, 1995, at A1 (quoting an exclusive interview with the Bee):

“Our diversity is our great strength,” [President Clinton] declared. “If a university says, ‘Look, we’re only going to let in qualified people, but we think that the life of the university will be strengthened if we had different kinds of people,’ then I think that’s a legitimate thing.”

Otherwise, he added, “there are universities in California that could fill their entire freshman classes with nothing but Asian Americans.”

Likewise, see this comment from CNN Crossfire liberal host Bob Beckel, questioning Abigail Thernstrom:

If merit — this things, merit, which is most grades and tests are what is used here, would you like to see these UCLA Law School 80 percent Asian? Because at the rate it is going, let me just give you the percentages. The rate it’s going, an increase of 80 students by the year 2007, 80 percent of the UCLA Law School will be Asian. Will that make you happy?

My view is different, whether such statements are made about Asians — or, for that matter, in past generations, about Jews, who are similarly overrepresented in various contexts, or about any other groups. If it somehow ends up that Asians make up 80 percent of the students that have the non-race-based predictors UCLA Law School uses for admission, and my own racial group is thus vastly underrepresented, I would have no complaints whatsoever, and wouldn’t think there is any basis to use racial preferences to either reduce the number of Asians or increase the number of whites, blacks, or Hispanics.

Eugene Volokh teaches free speech law, religious freedom law, church-state relations law, a First Amendment Amicus Brief Clinic, and tort law, at UCLA School of Law, where he has also often taught copyright law, criminal law, and a seminar on firearms regulation policy.



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