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Groundhog Day in court? California ban on affirmative action is upheld. Again.

A three-judge panel from the Ninth US Circuit cited a 1997 appeals court decision upholding the affirmative action ban, which led to a sharp decline in minority enrollment at California state universities.

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A federal appeals court on Monday left intact California’s ban on race-based affirmative action as a means to boost the ranks of minority students in the state university system, throwing out a lawsuit that sought to overturn the policy.

In turning the lawsuit aside, a three-judge panel of the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals cited a 1997 appeals court decision that upheld the constitutionality of the prohibition.

California voters approved the ban, Proposition 209, in 1996. The state-wide ballot initiative amended the state’s constitution to read in part: “The state shall not discriminate against, or grant 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.”

The amendment forced the University of California to end its long-standing affirmative action programs, and, instead, rely on race-neutral admissions mechanisms.

The action was challenged by several individuals and groups alleging the measure violated equal protection guarantees of the 14th Amendment. The court disagreed, and dismissed the suit 15 years ago.

In an effort to boost minority enrollment, the university system adopted a procedure of admitting the top four percent of graduates from any California high school. It also decreased the weight applied to standardized tests. But those policies did not compensate for the end of affirmative action, which led to a 50 percent reduction in minority enrollment. The new policies have increased minority enrollment, but not enough, opponents of Prop. 209 say.

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