SAN FRANCISCO — California's high court on Monday upheld the state's 14-year-old law barring preferential treatment of women and minorities in public school admissions, government hiring and contracting.
In a 6-1 ruling, the state Supreme Court rejected arguments from the city of San Francisco and Attorney General Jerry Brown that the law, known as Proposition 209, violates federal equality protections.
Opponents of the ban say it creates barriers for minorities and women that don't exist for other groups, such as veterans seeking preference.
The ruling written by Justice Kathryn Werdegar came in response to lawsuits filed by white contractors challenging San Francisco's affirmative action program, which was suspended in 2003.
"As the court recognized, Proposition 209 is a civil rights measure that protects everyone, regardless of background," said Sharon Browne, a lawyer for the Pacific Legal Foundation, which represented the contractors. "Under Proposition 209, no one can be victimized by unfair government policies that discriminate or grant preferences based on sex or skin color."
If San Francisco wants to resurrect the program, the Supreme Court said it must show compelling evidence the city "purposefully or intentionally discriminated against" minority and women contractors and that such a law was the only way to fix the problem.
Justice Carlos Moreno dissented, writing that it's unfair to explicitly single out minorities and women while other special groups continue to enjoy preferential treatment in school admissions and elsewhere.
"In the wake of Proposition 209, veterans, the economically disadvantaged, the physically disabled, children of alumni, in-state residents, etc., all may continue to seek, obtain, and benefit from preferential legislation as before," Moreno wrote. "The same is no longer true for those seeking race- and sex-conscious legislation."
Another challenge to Proposition 209 on different legal grounds is pending after being filed in federal court earlier this year.
The pro-affirmative action known as By Any Means Necessary is seeking to invalidate the law by arguing that minority students and their parents are unfairly restricted by state admission policies that can't take into account race or gender but does consider other factors.
(This version CORRECTS Corrects author of opinion to Justice Kathryn Werdegar. Updates with quotes, details)