By Carl Azuz, CNN
(CNN) It’s not a new debate by any stretch, but a renewed effort -- and court case -- are putting it back in the spotlight. Some of California’s African-American and Latino students are hoping a federal appeals court will allow public universities to consider race when admitting new students.
Affirmative action in California’s public agencies has been banned for 16 years.
In Proposition 209, voters decided that race shouldn’t be a deciding factor. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Prop 209 in 1997, and the California Supreme Court has upheld it twice.
But the issue is back in front of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court for several reasons. Civil rights advocates who want the ban overturned point to a pair of cases: A 2003 U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowed law schools to consider race in admissions, and a 2011 federal appeals court ruling overturned Michigan’s ban on considering race in higher education. California’s Democratic governor, Jerry Brown, supports the effort to overturn Prop 209; during the last legal battle, the state’s Republican governor, Pete Wilson, supported the ban.
The latest California case was filed on behalf of dozens of African-American and Latino students. Many of them argue that the high schools they attended didn’t adequately prepare them for the admissions standards of California’s university system. They believe that allowing affirmative action will increase their numbers on state campuses.
But Asian-Americans, another minority, are well represented at some California universities. At the University of California Berkeley campus, for example, 43% of 2010 undergraduates were Asian, while 33% were white. At UCLA, the number of Asian-American undergraduates enrolled last fall exceeded the number of non-Hispanic whites by almost 1,500 students. Those who don’t want race to be a factor in college admissions could argue that if affirmative action is unnecessary for some minority groups, how can the law be changed to legally benefit others?
It’s possible that the U.S. Supreme Court could have the last word on this. If an appeals court in Michigan says race can be a factor there, but a court in California says it cannot, it may take the nation’s top justices to resolve the dispute.