The lawsuit — Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action vs. American Civil Rights Institute — was originally formed in 2010 by 46 minority students and the CDAA. It aims to overturn Proposition 209, which voters passed in 1996 and bans affirmative action. Proposition 209 prevents state-run schools and organizations from considering gender, race or ethnicity in contracting or admission decisions.
The constitutional amendment was upheld in an initial appeal in 1997. A California judge dismissed the case in a lower court in 2010.
The San Francisco Examiner reported that George B. Washington, a plaintiff attorney and proponent for affirmative action, cited racial bias as the background for Proposition 209.
“It’s a special law, directed only at blacks and Latinos,” Washington said.
Many supporters of affirmative action turned out for the Feb. 13 opening remarks at the federal courthouse in San Francisco. A teacher at an Oakland high school told ABC News that the affirmative action ban limited potential in higher education for non-white students.
“This is a historic moment,” Tania Kappner told ABC News. “The opportunity to win affirmative action back for California and get the colleges to look more like our state, we need that,”
In an effort to boost diversity, UC officials adopted holistic review last year, which includes the mandatory assessment of an applicant’s entire application before a decision can be reached. Considerations on race in admissions are already allowed when viewed as part of the whole application. In February 2011, the UC Office of the President released a statement stating that while diversity was an aim of holistic review, it could not be the most important factor in utilizing holistic review.
“Holistic review is not a silver bullet for climate and diversity problems, and is cautious about characterizing its individualized recommendation or the 2012 freshman admissions reform policy it authored as attempts to increase diversity,” the UCOP statement said. “Diversity may be one outcome, but it is not the defining motivation.”
A statement on the UCSD’s Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity & Inclusion’s webpage repeats a commitment to creating a diverse environment on campus.
“Diversity is a defining feature of the State of California, and is a source of innovative ideas, creative accomplishments and a variety of values and worldviews that arise from differences of culture and life experiences,” the statement reads. “UC San Diego strives to reflect this diversity in its students, faculty and staff.”
According to UCOP admissions data, the percentage of white students who enrolled on a UC campus in 2011 dropped by nearly 5 percent since 2009. The percentages of African-American and Hispanic students rose by 0.2 percent and 4.9 percent, respectively, in that time period.