All Commentary
Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Californians Reject Legalized Discrimination at the Ballot Box—Despite Silicon Valley Cash Blitz

Voters in the Golden State overwhelmingly rejected a measure on Tuesday that would have made public discrimination legal.

Image Credit: YouTube-Los Angeles Times

California has a reputation as a trendsetter in America, a role it apparently relishes.

If that’s the case, the resurrection of affirmative action appears dead on arrival.

Voters in the Golden State overwhelmingly rejected a measure that would have made government discrimination legal in California.

Proposition 16 sought to “repeal Proposition 209 (1996), which stated that the government and public institutions cannot discriminate against or grant preferential treatment to persons on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in public employment, public education, and public contracting.”

More than 11 millions votes were cast, and 56 percent of Californians voted against Prop 16 compared to 44 percent who voted in favor.

The measure failed despite the fact that supporters of Prop 16 outraised their opponents by a margin of nearly 20-1 and enjoyed support from some of the most prominent names in Silicon Valley.

As the Associated Press reports:

Supporters raised $31 million and include chambers of commerce, professional sports, tech companies and Democratic leaders. They say affirmative action programs are critical to undoing generations of systemic racism and sexism that holds back people of color and women.

In contrast, opponents have raised $1.6 million, fueled by smaller donations from a grassroots network that includes Chinese immigrants worried that public universities will bypass Asian American applicants with higher scores and grades in favor of lower-scoring African American and Latino students. They say discrimination should stay illegal.

That final sentence is key.

As I’ve previously noted, California was attempting to overturn a measure modeled on the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which made it unlawful to discriminate against individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, or national origin.

Prop 16 supporters said discrimination was necessary to “advance true racial and gender equity in this state.”

Essentially, supporters are seeking to use government-sanctioned discrimination to advance social justice. This is why social justice inevitably runs up against one of the pillars of classical liberalism: equal treatment under the law.

As the Nobel Prize-winning economist and philosopher F.A. Hayek once observed, social justice demands the unequal treatment of individuals.

The classical demand is that the state ought to treat all people equally in spite of the fact that they are very unequal. You can’t deduce from this that because people are unequal you ought to treat them unequally in order to make them equal. And that’s what social justice amounts to. It’s a demand that the state should treat people differently in order to place them in the same position. . . .To make people equal a goal of governmental policy would force government to treat people very unequally indeed.

Perhaps the most fundamental question of our age is this: Should people be treated equally regardless of their race, gender, or class; or should they be treated unequally to advance equity and social justice?

California, arguably America’s most progressive state, just gave us a good indication of how Americans feel on the matter today.

  • Jonathan Miltimore is the Senior Creative Strategist of at the Foundation for Economic Education.