The Clinton administration will throw its weight behind an effort to derail California’s Proposition 209, a voter-approved measure that would outlaw race- and gender-based affirmative action in the state.
Justice Department officials said Friday they may either file a friend-of-the-court brief in a lawsuit challenging the measure or seek to join the case as a co-plaintiff.
“We feel that the California affirmative action initiative is unconstitutional and intend to get involved in the case at an appropriate time,” Justice Department spokesman Myron Marlin said.
“The White House legal counsel is supportive and the president is supportive of the (Justice Department’s) decision to enter the case,” White House press secretary Mike McCurry said. President Clinton noted this week he “publicly and strongly” opposed Proposition 209 during his re-election campaign.
Clinton knows the legal move will pit him against most California voters, McCurry said, but “the president as the chief constitutional officer has to act.”
Fifty-four percent of California voters approved the measure in November, but a federal judge issued temporary restraining order barring enforcement late last month, saying it might be unconstitutional. The law would bar race and gender preferences in public hiring, contracting and education.
Justice officials contend the law denies women and minorities access to opportunities open to other groups, such as veterans.
Friday’s announcement drew praise from civil rights activists.
“Obviously we’re very pleased,” said Ed Chen, an attorney for the northern California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing students, public employees and minority and female contractors in the case. “We’re very confident in our views that Proposition 209 violates the 14th Amendment.”
Supporters of Proposition 209 called the move arrogant and inappropriate.
“This is absolutely outrageous,” said Clint Bolick, litigation director for the Institute for Justice, a conservative public interest law firm representing several groups defending the measure in court.
“This action betrays the administration as not only an enemy of non-discrimination, but of the will of the people,” he said. “This arrogantly flouts the will of the people.”
Bolick, who served in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division during the Reagan administration, also contended that federal law prohibits the Justice Department from intervening in the case as a co-plaintiff.
The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Cassandra Burrell Associated Press