On Friday afternoon, the civil rights group BAMN held a press conference in front of Oakland Technical High School to announce that it will continue its fight to overturn California’s Proposition 209 despite a federal judge’s recent decision to dismiss the group’s lawsuit challenging the initiative.
According to its website, BAMN—whose full name is the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration, and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary—was formed in 1995 “in response to the University of California (UC) Regents’ decision to ban affirmative action,” or policies that require public universities to consider race and gender as factors in admitting students. Affirmative action has been prohibited throughout California since 1996, after the passage of Proposition 209, a ballot measure sponsored by UC Regent Ward Connerly.
15 years later, BAMN is trying to restore affirmative action by filing a lawsuit contesting Prop 209, claiming that it violates the equal protection clause of the United States Constitution. The suit names Connerly, Governor Jerry Brown, and UC President Mark Yudoff among the defendants.
“We believe that building a movement for equality, we can win back affirmative action, which is essential to increase the number of black, Latino, Native American and other underrepresented students,” said BAMN organizer Tania Kappner.
On December 8, US District Court Judge Samuel Conti dismissed BAMN’s suit, but on Friday Kappner said that the group had “filed paperwork in the circuit court in San Francisco” to appeal the decision. A group of 75 middle school and college students have filed as plaintiffs in the case because “the door has been slammed on their future,” said Kappner.
The opponents of affirmative action also argue that the policy violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which forbids race-based preferential treatment. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, the only African American currently on the Supreme Court, told CBS News this past February that he believes affirmative action creates “a cult of victimization” and implies that African Americans need “special treatment in order to succeed.” Other opponents even call the policy “reverse racism.”
But BAMN members say that ethnic minorities are underrepresented in California universities. According to the organization’s press release, while Latino, black and the Native American comprised almost fifty percent of California’s high school graduates in 2009, “these groups comprised only 19.3 percent and 20.6 percent of new freshman admits at UC Berkeley and UCLA respectively.”
“Since affirmative action has been taken away in California, there was immediately a drop of black and Latino students admitted to UC Berkeley,” said Kappner, who is also a U.S. history teacher at Oakland Tech. Kappner said that she was the only African American student when she was taking UC Berkeley’s education program to get her teaching credential.
“California schools are more segregated than the schools in the south now,” said Kappner. “Why should California be a backwater?”