gavel.jpgA federal appeals court in San Francisco will hear arguments today on a civil rights group’s challenge to a 16-year-old voter-approved ban on affirmative action in University of California admissions.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will consider a claim by the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action that the ban, which is part of Proposition 209 of 1996, violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal treatment.

The coalition, which was joined by 46 minority students in a 2010 lawsuit, says the measure has had “disastrous effects,” causing a sharp drop in the number of Hispanic, black and Native American students admitted to UC campuses.

The group is appealing a decision in which U.S. District Judge Samuel Conti of San Francisco dismissed the lawsuit last year. The appeals panel is expected to take the case under submission after hearing arguments and to issue a written decision at a later date.

Proposition 209, a voter initiative, prohibits any kind of government preference for racial or ethnic minorities or women in public education, employment and contracts.

The coalition is contesting only the part of the measure that bars affirmative action for minority students wishing to attend UC schools.

Acting on an earlier lawsuit, the 9th Circuit upheld Proposition 209 in 1997.

But the coalition contends the legal landscape changed when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that the University of Michigan could look at race as one of a number of factors in admissions decisions.

The measure is being defended by Ward Connerly, a former UC regent and the chief sponsor of Proposition 209. He is represented by attorneys from the Sacramento-based Pacific Legal Foundation.

Foundation attorney Ralph Kasarda said last week, “Far from being unconstitutional, Proposition 209 represents the highest aspirations for equal rights and equal opportunities for everyone.”

“Proposition 209 guarantees everyone’s right to be treated fairly and not to be discriminated against based on skin color or gender,” the attorney said.

The civil rights coalition got a boost last year when Gov. Jerry Brown filed a friend-of-the-court brief opposing Proposition 209 as applied to UC admissions.

Brown argued that the measure “imposes unique political burdens on minorities.”

While other groups, such as veterans, low-income students and children of alumni, can seek admissions preferences by lobbying the Legislature or university regents, minority groups can seek preferences only by amending the state Constitution, Brown contended.

Because Proposition 209 was enacted by voters as a state constitutional amendment, it can be changed only by another amendment.

The full name of the group is the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary. It is sometimes known by the acronym BAMN.

Julia Cheever, Bay City News

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