Supreme Court won't block ban on affirmative action California can continue to dismantle programs while case is considered

September 05, 1997|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court refused yesterday to interfere, for the time being, with California's sweeping ban on government affirmative action programs that give special benefits to minorities and women.

In a one-sentence order, and without dissent, the court said it would not block implementation of the controversial California initiative, called Proposition 209, during the time the justices ponder a constitutional challenge to it by civil rights groups.

The court appeared not to have been convinced that minorities and women would soon suffer dire effects in state jobs, college admissions or public contracts if Proposition 209 continues to be enforced in coming months.

Even if the justices were to agree, next month or in November, to rule on the constitutional challenge, a final ruling would not be expected until spring or summer -- time enough, challengers say, for Proposition 209 to have had a significant impact.

California a test lab

California stands to become a laboratory for testing what happens when affirmative action comes to an end, possibly on a wide scale.

Affirmative action plans have been a prominent fixture in civil rights enforcement for more than three decades.

The results of California's experiment could have an impact on Congress, which is studying a similar ban.

The court's action temporarily leaves state officials and other backers of the ban free to step up their efforts to put the ban into operation by dismantling one program at a time -- a process that could take months to complete.

Although Proposition 209 took effect a week ago, no existing program can be stopped until a state court finds it violates the ban.

No hint of final outcome

The Supreme Court's unexplained order yesterday gave no hint of what the justices ultimately will do with the civil rights groups' claim that the measure is unconstitutional because it will undo many programs needed to overcome past bias against minorities and women.

Glynn Custred, one of the originators of Proposition 209, which California voters approved last year, praised the Supreme Court for declining to suspend the measure.

He commented: "The opponents of 209 are going to fight this to the bitter end, but they are clearly fighting a losing battle."

Steven R. Shapiro, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, one of the challengers of the measure, said the court's action might mean only that California will dismantle many programs, then have to put them back into effect if Proposition 209 is struck down later.

Pub Date: 9/05/97

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