Political Notebook

Dan Walters: Kamala Harris undercuts California’s Prop. 209

Proposition 209, passed by California voters in 1996, bars race, ethnicity or gender preferences in hiring, college admissions and other governmental actions.

The measure, which has survived multiple legal challenges, is a section of the state constitution.

Attorney General Kamala Harris took an oath to “support and defend … the constitution of the State of California against all enemies, foreign and domestic…”

Yet Harris this month proudly submitted a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court encouraging it to “allow public universities to consider race as one factor among many in admissions decisions.”

“To prepare our future leaders to thrive in the global workforce, we must embrace the benefits of diversity,” Harris said in a statement. “I strongly urge the U.S. Supreme Court to reaffirm its decision that public colleges and universities may consider race as one factor in admissions decisions.”

Her brief involves a case out of Texas, whose university seeks to use race in admissions. The court had ruled in a prior case that race could be used as one factor, and she wants it to reaffirm that attitude.

But what about Proposition 209, the expressed will of the voters that’s enshrined in the state constitution?

Harris’ brief mentions it in passing and makes clear that she doesn’t like it.

“Because of Proposition 209, this state’s public institutions of higher education cannot avail themselves of the constitutionally permissible race-conscious admissions options approved in this court’s ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger,” her brief said.

“As a consequence, the University of California has struggled to attain a level of racial diversity on its campuses that will achieve the educational benefits of a diverse student body.”

Later, she declares, “California’s decision to forgo the consideration of race in attempting to achieve optimal student body diversity is, of course, a policy choice that California voters are entitled to make. However, Proposition 209 constitutes merely a choice about how to achieve diversity and does not reflect a lessening of California’s commitment to student body diversity as an essential component of a comprehensive collegiate education.”

California, she tells the court, “has a strong interest in retaining the flexibility to change course in the future should it desire to do so…”

The University of California is submitting a separate brief essentially taking the same tack.

OK, so Harris and the University of California don’t like Proposition 209 and want to reinstate race-based affirmative action in admissions.

Whether affirmative action is a societal benefit or a mistaken notion is a debate worth having. And the way to have it would be for its advocates to sponsor a ballot measure to repeal Proposition 209.

As long as it remains in the state’s constitution, however, it’s rather arrogant for Harris, the leading candidate for U.S. Senate next year, to assert that her personal attitude represents the state as a whole.