The State of Equal Opportunity

Equal opportunity initiatives ensure equal access to educational and professional opportunities for qualified minorities, women, and members of other underrepresented communities. In the 2003 Supreme Court case Grutter v. Bollinger, the Court reaffirmed the importance of these policies and stated that race could be used as one of many factors in college admissions.

California, Washington, and Michigan passed ballot initiatives that banned equal opportunity initiatives in public hiring, contracting, and admissions to public colleges and universities.

The leading proponent of these anti-equal opportunity initiatives is Ward Connerly, a California businessman and former University of California regent. Following his success in those three states, Connerly tried to pass similar ballot initiatives in five states in 2008 – Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska, and Oklahoma.

However, local and national supporters of equal opportunity were successful in exposing Connerly’s deceptive practices and tactics, ensuring his initiatives only qualified for the ballots in Colorado and Nebraska.

In November 2008, voters in Colorado rejected Amendment 46 (49 percent – 51 percent), becoming the first state to vote down a Connerly anti-equal opportunity ballot initiative.  However, Nebraska voters passed Initiative 424 (58 percent – 42 percent), making Nebraska the fourth state to ban equal opportunity.

Preceding the election, Nebraskans United, a coalition of civil rights and civic organizations and equal opportunity supporters, filed a lawsuit challenging the validity of many of the petition signatures submitted to qualify the initiative for the ballot. However, in January 2009, a Nebraska judge ruled against the coalition and upheld the state’s ban on equal opportunity.