You Say Potato, and I Say TOMATO
Yesterday, oral arguments were heard in a lawsuit in Jefferson City about a language change in a 2008 Missouri ballot initiative. The initiative will address state-based affirmative action programs, and will appear on the November 2008 ballot.
The Missouri Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI), the plaintiff in the case and defender of the initiative’s original language, argues that the new language is politically biased and misleading.
The article quotes the original ballot language submitted by MCRI as follows:
"Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to prohibit any form of discrimination as an act of the state by declaring, ‘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 Missouri Secretary of State’s office, however, changed the language to read:
"Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to:
1. ban affirmative action programs designed to eliminate discrimination against, and improve opportunities for, women and minorities in public contracting, employment and education; and
2. allow preferential treatment based on race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin to meet federal program funds eligibility standards as well as preferential treatment for bona fide qualifications based on sex?"
I think you could argue that both wordings are somewhat misleading. But I sympathize with the MCRI’s argument. The original language is clear: the Missouri Constitution should be amended "to prohibit any form of discrimination as an act of the state." That would include ending any existing affirmative action or race-based preferential treatment.
The new language says the same thing, but in a much more emotively-charged way. By explicitly including buzz words such as "affirmative action," the initiative immediately polarizes voters. I think that the MCRI’s argument that this language will unfairly sway the election is valid. Moreover, it appears that the Secretary of State’s office took tremendous liberty with the submitted language from the MCRI.
Preferential treatment, whether positively intended or not, is problematic and invites all kinds of race-based politics. A truly "color-blind" society should value its citizens based on their merit, not on the color of their skin, their place of birth, or their sex. I think that the MSCI strives to achieve such a society.