(CN) — Californians will have the chance to ditch the state’s 24-year-old ban on affirmative action this November after lawmakers on Wednesday moved forward a piece of law to let voters decide whether gender and race should be a consideration in contracting, public hiring and public education.
Voters will be given the choice to undo the California Civil Rights Initiative which amended the state’s constitution in 1996 to ban affirmative action. At the time, 55% of California voters passed Proposition 209, which was opposed by civil rights and feminist organizations. The ban had the support of then-Gov. Pete Wilson, a Republican.
In a 30-10 vote Wednesday, the state Senate ratified Assembly Constitutional Amendment 5. The vote was applauded by gender and diversity advocates across the state.
Elisha Smith Arrillaga, executive director of the educational advocacy group The Education Trust-West, called Wednesday’s ratification “a critical first step toward confronting discrimination and structural inequality.”
State Sen. Holly Mitchell, a bill co-author, said in a statement that Wednesday’s vote would reverse a quarter century of “institutional and educational barriers.”
“The collective actions against inequality and injustice that we’ve seen around the world represent an urgent call for systemic change,” said Mitchell. “We must be affirmative in our actions we take to bend the arc towards justice. It’s time for a new generation of California’s voters to stand up and advance equity.”
Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, also a co-author of the bill, spoke from the Assembly floor earlier this week and noted critics of affirmative action quote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in their argument.
“When he talked about ‘I don’t want to be judged by the color of my skin but by the content of my character,’ that was contained in the ‘I Have a Dream Speech,’” said Weber. “That was a dream. That was not reality. That was aspirational.”
This month, a Democratic-led Assembly approved the bill by a 60-14 margin, with the sole Republican yes vote cast by Palmdale Assemblyman Tom Lackey. That was followed by a statement from the University of California regents.
“If we are going to be serious about creating a university that truly serves the public interest, we cannot be silent,” said regents chairman John Perez in the statement.
Affirmative action in the Golden State dates to the landmark 1978 U.S. Supreme Court decision Regents of the University of California v. Bakke. The decision ruled a quota system once used by the University of California, Davis, was unlawful.