Anti-Equal Opportunity Amendment Threatened

Affiliate: ACLU of Utah
February 12, 2010 12:00 am

ACLU Affiliate
ACLU of Utah
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: media@aclu.org

SALT LAKE CITY, UT – Utah legislators recently introduced a joint resolution in support of a proposed constitutional amendment that would end the state’s efforts to ensure equal opportunities for all Utahns in state hiring, contracting and college admissions.

The ACLU of Utah strongly opposes any attempt to alter the Utah Constitution in order to restrict the ability of independent state agencies, colleges and universities to enact policies that seek to encourage opportunities for individuals who have either historically or actually been denied those opportunities, and to prevent the recurrence of discrimination in the future.

Rep. Curt Oda (R-Clearfield) is the chief sponsor of HJR24, the resolution that urges adoption of a constitutional amendment banning equal opportunity programs. Rep. Carl Wimmer (R-Herriman) is listed as a co-sponsor of HJR24, and Sen. Margaret Dayton (R-Orem) is prepared to champion the measure in the state senate. If the resolution is approved by both the House and the Senate, it will appear on the November ballot for voter consideration, and could take effect on January 1, 2011. The measure appears to be moving quickly toward approval.

Those pushing HJR24 insist that it is simply an attempt to ensure that “the government will treat everyone the same.” This assertion reflects several common misconceptions about equal opportunity policies, also known as affirmative action programs. It assumes that without equal opportunity efforts, no racial biases or gender discrimination currently would influence hiring and admission procedures in Utah. Although the United States is often thought of as a “meritocracy,” where only hard work – in a fair competitive environment – ensures an individual’s success, race and gender still play a large role in who gets the best jobs, and who gets into a particular college or university.

However ardently we might wish it were not so, race and gender do still matter in Utah and in the United States. Equal opportunity programs allow local and state agencies to remove discriminatory barriers that can limit the diversity of skills, experience and viewpoints represented on their staffs and among those they serve.

Equal opportunity policies are not “quota programs.” Quotas have been unconstitutional for decades. Rather, equal opportunity programs take many forms, including: outreach, recruitment efforts, and the use of non-traditional criteria for hiring and admissions. Under current law, state and local agencies are able to tailor their own equal opportunity policies, but they are already prohibited from discriminating against anyone on the bases set forth by HJR24.

This campaign to amend Utah’s constitution replicates similar efforts, led by millionaire Californian and anti-affirmative action crusader Ward Connerly, in California, Michigan, Colorado and several other states. Mr. Connerly is a former University of California regent and the man behind California’s Proposition 209, which outlawed even the mere consideration of race or gender in affirmative action or diversity programs relating to state hiring and state university admissions. Some of the tactics used in Mr. Connerly’s campaigns to end state-level equal opportunity programs have drawn criticism as being misleading or questionable.

The national ACLU was successful in challenging a similar effort in Missouri. The effort to rewrite Missouri’s state constitution to ban equal opportunity programs was part of a largely unsuccessful national campaign led by Mr. Connerly. A Missouri circuit judge struck down the proposed ballot initiative, which the ACLU asserted should not be circulated as it violated the Missouri Constitution by seeking to trick and defraud the state’s voters in attempting to ban an array of equal opportunity programs.

The ACLU of Utah strongly urges members of the Utah State Legislature to reject this effort to alter our state constitution. If passed, the proposed amendment would be subject to legal challenge. We hope that legislators will see this proposed amendment for what it truly is: an unnecessary attempt to tie the hands of policymakers at state and local agencies, colleges and universities as they design equal opportunity programs specifically tailored to their own needs.

For more information about equal opportunity programs, and various efforts to quash those programs throughout the country, visit: www.aclu.org/racial-justice/promoting-opportunity-and-racial-equality-america

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