Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Colorado Proposed Amendment 46 - Wolf in Sheep's Clothing

The so-called "Colorado Civil Rights Initiative" is a wolf in sheep's clothing.

It pretends to guarantee equality for Colorado citizens.

Its supporters claim women and minorities shouldn't be "treated as second-class citizens."

Yet it would dismantle more than 40 years of progress in the true fight for equal rights of all citizens, including women and minorities.

The title of this Constitutional Amendment is deceptive. Who isn't in favor of civil rights? Certainly it's not something many people would openly admit. Yet this Amendment would not protect civil rights. It would repeal them.

The ballot language looks benign. It borrows the language of a true Civil Rights law, Title VII, in a very tricky way. The first part of the proposed amendment asks the voter to agree to:

"An amendment to the Colorado constitution concerning a prohibition against discrimination by the state, and, in connection therewith, prohibiting the state from discriminating against or granting preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting." (emphasis supplied).

We don't want unlawful discrimination by the state. Agreed.

But here's the little phrase that would dismantle equal employment opportunity - "granting preferential treatment." Surely preferential treatment can't be good, can it? We don't want those "special interests" getting preferential treatment, do we? The words "preferential treatment" are code words for "affirmative action." And everyone knows that you can't have preferential treatment where there isn't even equality.

Veterans often get preferences in workplaces and on campuses — which usually benefit men more than women. Friends help friends and acquaintances get jobs. The children of alumni get preferential treatment over others in admission to college. Affirmative Action helps open doors for women and people of color who often don't have those connections.

Why the deception? Why didn't the Pro-Amendment 46 crowd just come out and say directly that they want to ban affirmative action in Colorado? Did they try to appear to be for equality, when they are against it?

"Affirmative-action" is not an expletive. It simply requires positive steps to be taken to provide equal employment opportunity. Equal employment opportunity is a fundamental part of our laws. We want people to have the same opportunities to be employed or to contract with the government regardless of our physicalities or our beliefs.

Opponents have distorted the reality of affirmative-action beyond recognition. Affirmative-action is not the same as quotas. Quotas are prohibited by federal law.

Affirmative-action is rooted in the historical inequities once enforced by our government.

Remember segregation? Remember Jim-Crow laws?

Until 1965 our government mandated segregation by law. The government engaged in systematic exclusion of Black Americans from full participation in society. Laws allowed segregated restaurants, hotels and theaters, schools, all aspects of public life.

The government also systematically discriminated against women. For example, women were excluded from the practice of law. The U.S. Supreme Court actually ruled that: "The paramount destiny and mission of women is to fulfill the noble and benign offices of wife and mother." It's called the Bradwell case.

Women couldn't even be bartenders, unless they were the wife or daughter of a male bar owner. And that was just in 1948! There in the Cleary case, the Supreme Court said that the state's interest in protecting morals was so reasonable that "to state the question is in effect to answer it."

Judges recognized the damages caused by state discrimination. People in all three branches of government designed affirmative action to eliminate the remnants of state-enforced segregation and exclusion of women, Blacks, Latinos/as, and other non-white workers.

President John F. Kennedy first used the phrase "affirmative action" in 1961 when he issued Executive Order 10925. This order requires federal contractors to "take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin." Lyndon Johnson's 1965 Executive Order 11246 used the same language. In 1967, Johnson expanded the Executive Order to include affirmative action requirements to include women.

Affirmative Action levels the playing field. It was not level before, and it's not level yet. AA works so people of color and all women have the chance to compete in education and in business. White men hold 95% to 97% of the high-level corporate jobs, according to NOW. "And that's with affirmative action programs in place. Imagine how low figures would be without affirmative action. Of 3000 federal court decisions in discrimination cases between 1990 and 1994, only 100 involved claims of reverse discrimination; only 6 of those claims were found to be valid."

Women and people of color still face unfair obstacles in business and education, despite enormous gains over the past several years. An astonishing 70% of schools are not in compliance with Title IX, the federal equal education opportunity law, according to the National Organization for Women. NOW also reports that for every dollar earned by men, women on a whole earn 74 cents, African American women earn 63 cents and Latina women earn 57 cents. Only 25% of all doctors and lawyers are women, according to the Census Bureau. Less than 1% of auto mechanics are women. And women are only 8.4% of engineers. Less than 3% of federal contracts go to women-owned firms. Women still face barriers in schools. In Washington, women receive only 12% of doctorates in engineering, and women are substantially under-represented in computer science nationwide.

Colorado's proposed Amendment 46 is aimed at preventing programs that work to tear down barriers to opportunity for people who, because of their gender, race or ethnicity, have been underrepresented in education or contracting.

This anti-affirmative action amendment seeks to eliminate:

• Programs that help women achieve pay equity with men;

• Programs that encourage women to enter fields where they are underrepresented and could earn higher wages;

• Outreach efforts and other programs that inform women and minorities of opportunities to bid on and earn public contracts;

• Programs that encourage female and minority students at the elementary and high school level to excel in reading, science and math; and

Scholarships and programs that encourage women and minorities to enter medical, science and engineering careers.

Working women have moved from welfare to jobs as forklift operators and other non-traditional construction jobs through federal affirmative-action outreach efforts. The US Department of Labor cites Lisa as an example of a laborer employed at an expansion project. Before she entered the trades, she worked for $5.00 an hour without benefits as a seamstress. She now earns over $20 an hour with benefits. Judy is a journey structural ironworker and single parent of two teenage sons. Before entering the trades, she worked two jobs, with no room to advance. She credits her new job to affirmative action and says "employers will not hire without affirmative action." She was one of 20 women in her union of 2,321 members.

Colorado Proposed Amendment 46 is bad public policy. If it passes, it would eliminate public programs aimed to increase opportunities for women and minorities in education, employment, and business. Even modest outreach programs to inform women and minorities about educational or contracting opportunities would be affected.


Sources: (accessed 9/24/08): U.S. Department of Labor,; National Organization for Women:; Colorado's Civil Rights Initiative:; Grutter v. Bollinger (2003), Written Opinion ; ADL: ADL Opposes Colorado Amendments 46 and 48; Photo Credit: Colorado Department of Wildlife; Subscribe to Kimberlie Ryan's Working Wellness

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