Leon Worden

Civil rights initiative outlaws quota systems

Leon Worden · February 1, 1995

"Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." Abraham Lincoln, 1863.

"Our Constitution is color blind. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal. The law regards man as man and takes no account of his surroundings or his color." -- U.S. Justice John Marshall Harlan, 1896.

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." -- Martin Luther King Jr., 1963.

"Title VII (of the Civil Rights Act) is designed to encourage hiring on the basis of ability and qualifications, not race or religion.... (T)here is nothing in it ... to require hiring, firing, or promotion of employees in order to meet a racial 'quota' or to achieve a certain racial balance." -- Hubert H. Humphrey, 1964.

"The best laid schemes o' mice and men / Gang aft a-gley." -- Robert Burns, 1785.

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How ironic it is that we, in our persistent efforts to implement them, have stray'd so far afield from the legislative intentions of our national heroes!

Today, we have racial quotas. Today we have discriminatory hiring practices, albeit often "reverse." Today, we look upon our fellow countrymen not as individuals, but as groups and classes of people.

Today, my wife can lose her new teaching position when her public school decides it needs precisely five more minority teachers.

Most Americans, I'd bet, share Dr. King's dream that one day, we will be judged not by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character.

Some time in 1996 -- either in the March primary or in the November general election -- California voters will have an opportunity to mandate that dream.

This month, the California Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI) will enter the signature-gathering phase. Its operative clause is simple and direct. It reads as follows:

"Neither the State of California nor any of its political subdivisions or agents shall use race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin as a criterion for either discriminating against, or granting preferential treatment to, any individual or group in the operation of the State's system of public employment, public education or public contracting."

At this early juncture, the proposed statute already has garnered detractors. They complain it will do away with affirmative action.

The truth is, CCRI does not endanger the central objective of affirmative action. Rather, it outlaws a current manifestation of affirmative action: quota systems.

"Affirmative action" and "quota systems" were never meant to be synonymous. Affirmative action began as a way to reach out to people who had been discriminated against in the past. The idea was to inform them of job availabilities and help them get training, while requiring employers to give them fair and impartial treatment during the hiring process. Nothing more.

Over the past 30 years, the focus changed. Lawmakers and regulators started basing education and employment rules not on equality of opportunity, but on equality of outcome. Certain "classes" of people gained "protection," and unprotected persons could lawfully be discriminated against.

You may recall, for instance, that Gov. Wilson had to suspend certain ethnic-group-oriented contracting regulations to rebuild I-5's Gavin Canyon overpass in record time.

Courts would be compelled to invalidate such regulations altogether under CCRI, on grounds they violate the civil rights of the individual.

Some political analysts say Democratic Party leaders fear the prospect that voting on CCRI could coincide with November, 1996 presidential balloting. The initiative naturally appeals to California's predominantly mainstream-conservative voters and will likely draw many of them to the polls, much as Proposition 187 did last November.

Unlike Prop. 187, however, CCRI reaffirms and bolsters our historic struggle for civil rights. Thus it may gain even broader support.

The California Civil Rights Initiative will ban all forms of race- and gender-based discrimination, including reverse discrimination, from our state's public institutions and agencies. It is the next step toward making Dr. King's dream come true.

To help collect signatures to place CCRI on the ballot, write to: SCV Congress of Republicans, P.O. Box 802993, Santa Clarita, CA 91380.

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Leon Worden is a Santa Clarita resident. His commentary appears on Wednesdays.


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