Brown vetoes affirmative actionlike SB 185

Participants at the Increase Diversity Bake Sale held signs urging Governor Jerry Brown to veto SB 185.
Edwin Cho/File
Participants at the Increase Diversity Bake Sale held signs urging Governor Jerry Brown to veto SB 185.

Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a controversial, affirmative actionlike bill Saturday that would have allowed public colleges and universities in California to consider demographic factors in admissions processes.

SB 185, authored by state Senator Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina, would have made it legal for UC and CSU schools to consider factors such as race, gender, ethnicity and national origin in student admissions.

The bill had faced scrutiny by those who questioned its legality. Opponents of the bill said that it contradicted Proposition 209. Approved by voters in 1996, the proposition made it illegal for students to receive preferential treatment on the basis of race, gender or ethnicity.

At UC Berkeley, the bill elicited much controversy. An “Increase Diversity Bake Sale” by the Berkeley College Republicans on Sproul Plaza last month — which was organized to protest the affirmative actionlike components of the bill — prompted responding protests. The on-campus action brought the issue to national prominence.

Shawn Lewis, president of the Berkeley College Republicans, issued a statement Saturday supporting Brown’s decision to veto the bill, stating that college admissions decisions should be based on “the qualifications of the applicant and the individual challenges he or she has faced” rather than race.

But CalSERVE Senator Sydney Fang — who co-authored an ASUC senate bill in support of SB 185 — said that the passage of the bill would have helped the campus multicultural community in its recruitment efforts.

“Not only was this a personal effort, but it was a huge community effort to have Brown sign the bill,” she said. “We’re very disappointed, but there are definitely other ways to continue this fight for promoting access to higher education for those communities, and we’ll still be organizing on it.”

Though Brown said that he agrees with the purpose of the bill, he believes the courts should determine the limits of the proposition, according to a veto message he sent Saturday to the members of the California State Senate.

“Signing this bill is unlikely to impact how Proposition 209 is ultimately interpreted by the courts; it will just encourage the 209 advocates to file more costly and confusing lawsuits,” he wrote in the message.

A court case is currently pending in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals against the state and the UC system on the same issues that the bill addresses, the message states.

“I’m not surprised that Gov. Brown agrees with the spirit of the bill, because there are many people who agree with affirmative action in the state of California,” said Grace Meador, communications director for the Berkeley College Republicans. “But he did the right thing, because the bill is unconstitutional, and the people of California have already spoken on the issue of affirmative action.”

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Proposition 209 banned consideration of economic status. In fact, economic status is not mentioned in the proposition’s language.