The basics

What would Proposition 16 do?

Restore affirmative action in California — meaning universities and government offices could factor in someone’s race, gender or ethnicity in making hiring, spending and admissions decisions. 

The practice has been illegal in California since 1996, when voters approved another proposition that banned affirmative action. Prop. 16 would reverse that vote.

 An example of how Prop. 16 might work: Back when California did allow affirmative action, state offices set goals for how many contracts they awarded to women-owned and minority-owned businesses.

 What it wouldn’t do: create racial quotas in university admissions. The U.S. Supreme Court banned those in 1978.

Why am I voting on this?

More than two-thirds of state lawmakers — motivated by racial inequities highlighted by the police killing of George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis — voted to put this measure on the November ballot.  

Essential to the argument of reinstating affirmative action is the concern that Black, Latino and Native American Students have seen their access to the University of California harmed. The data on the matter is complex, giving fodder to both opponents and backers of Prop 16 to select the data that best fits their arguments. 

Since affirmative action was banned, the sheer number of Black and Latino students admitted as freshmen to the UC has  quadrupled. But while Black and Latino students make up 60% of California’s high school enrollment, they comprise just 28% of UC freshmen admits in 2019. 

Getting into a UC has gotten tougher for all applicants, but Black, Latino and Native American students have seen their admissions rates plunge more than white and Asian American applicants. Some advocates warn that reinstating affirmative action invariably would mean a decline in Asian American enrollment.

Supporters say

What’s past shouldn’t be prologue. California is far more diverse than it was in the mid-1990s, when a Republican governor backed propositions to banish affirmative action and deny undocumented immigrants access to public services. Structural racism exists and to preach a color-blind philosophy is to be blind to the impacts of racism. Instead, for example, principals should be able to specifically seek to employ qualified Latino teachers in a school where most teachers are white but most students are Latino. Public universities should be able to consider a student’s race as one of numerous admissions factors, including grades and school work. As for the growth in Latino admissions at the UCs, that’s good news, but affirmative action could have led to those increases much sooner. 

Opponents say

Allowing schools and government offices to make decisions based on race, ethnicity or sex is its own kind of prejudice. Equal rights mean everyone is treated equally. The claim that America is systemically racist is a false narrative that “fuels racial paranoia, division and hatred.” The state already has made strides in diversity. And it’s legal now to give preference to students who really need it — those who grew up in low-income families. As for who gets into the public universities, the fault lies with inadequate K-12 schooling

Who's for it:

  • California Community Colleges and the California State University

  • Gov. Gavin Newsom

  • University of California

  • Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce

Who's against it:

  • Californians for Equal Rights

  • Chinese American Civic Action Alliance

  • Students for Fair Admissions

  • California Republican Party