Commentary

Setbacks Won’t Stop Drive For True Civil Rights

By Ward Connerly
This article originally appeared in Investor’s Business Daily on December 16, 1997.
Civil rights conjures up in most minds the 60s. It makes you think of rights for black people. You think of Dr. Martin Luther King; you think of Rosa Parks; you think of all of those horrors of the 60s. And well you should.

But civil rights in their most pristine form are those unalienable rights that our founders talked about so many years ago that belong to all of us.

It is important for us to redefine our thinking with regard to that term, “civil rights,” and to understand that indeed civil rights are individual rights for every citizen. And until we do… our nation is in for a long, long period of very rough sledding.

The last few weeks have been some of the most important in our nation’s history.

First, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand Proposition 209 — a measure which says that the state (of California) shall not discriminate against or grant preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color or ethnicity or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.

California (is now) the first state in the nation to truly say that we want to live out the true meaning of our creed, which is equality under the law for every citizen of this state.

Second … was the election in Houston. (An) initiative … was placed on the ballot by over 20,000 Houstonians who said that they wanted their city to also embrace policies that treat all of their citizens equally.

Houston has a number of contracting programs that set aside up to 20% of the contract dollars for people on the basis of race and gender and ethnic background. The program is available to those who earn up to $16 million per year. Only about five contractors have benefited from the programs in the area of professional services. So it is a racial spoils system that benefits very few people.

The language of the Houston Civil Rights Initiative, Proposition A, is almost identical to the language of Proposition 209. Nowhere in that language do you (see) the words affirmative action. And yet the mayor of the city, a liberal mayor, succeeded in convincing the City Council to place on the ballot the following language: “Shall the city of Houston prohibit affirmative action for women and minorities now and forever in the city of Houston?”

No place in the original language of Proposition A did you have any reference to affirmative action. It’s a term that has no specific meaning. It is not the intention of Proposition 209 and it was not the intention of Proposition A to ban all affirmative action.


What was quite significant about the last two weeks was that we were defeated in the House, but not by the Democrats. We were defeated by the Clinton Republicans.


Yet the mayor and the council adopted language that clearly violated what had been placed on the ballot by those 20,000 Houstonians, and we will be suing in the city to get that overturned.

Third, the Republican-controlled House Judiciary Committee defeated … a bill introduced by Rep. Charles Canidy, R-Fla., that would have adopted at the federal level the language in Proposition 209. A motion to table was put forth by a Republican. Three other Republicans joined 13 Democrats and defeated the bill without so much as a debate.

Fourth — a bright spot — Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, denied confirmation to Bill Lann Lee for the position of assistant attorney general for civil rights. (Hatch’s) argument was that Lee does not truly understand the Constitution of the United States.

Lee has said that he believes that the 14th Amendment is there to protect the interests of women and minorities. Hatch said, “No, I thought that the 14th Amendment was there to protect the rights of individuals.”

(What) was quite significant about the last two weeks was that we were defeated in the House, (but) not by the Democrats. We were defeated by the Clinton Republicans. They come to our conventions and they tell us that they oppose quotas and preferences, yet when there is a law and there is an opportunity to deliver on what they say, they high-tail and run.

This is an issue of moral principle, and if people can’t take a position and support that position on the basis of principle, then I think it’s time that they be held accountable.

If this movement is going to succeed, it is not going to come about as a result of the Congress. It is going to come about as a result of people like you and I who believe in the ideals of the nation; who believe in the principle of equality under the law; who are prepared to grab our pitchforks and charge the hill and make it happen.

Ward Connerly is president of the American Civil Rights Institute in Sacramento, California. This is excerpted from the keynote speech he delivered to the Cato Institute’s “American Renaissance” seminar in Los Angeles.