SJR 15 is a
misguided attempt to end equal opportunity in Oklahoma. In a recent
editorial appearing in The Oklahoman, Johnson stated that California and
Washington experienced no negative impact after passing similar laws.
He is wrong.
In fact, California saw a dramatic decline in the enrollment rates of minority students in the University of California system. At UC-Davis, the percentage of women among new faculty hires dropped from 52 percent before similar legislation, to 13 percent in the year after the law was enacted. Washington state saw a decrease of more than 25 percent in the share of Seattle public works contracts awarded to women or minority-owned firms.
SJR 15 threatens a range of targeted programs that most voters may not associate with discrimination and preferences at all: science and technology programs for girls, higher education funding for minority health professionals, review systems designed to monitor and address discrimination, domestic violence programs, breast cancer screenings and the list goes on. This initiative does not represent the next step in he civil rights movement, but just the opposite: a dramatic rollback on our nations commitment to racial integration, gender equity and meaningful equality.
Sen. Johnson did not think up this misguided and destructive idea on his own. In fact, this bill is filled with recycled language used in Oklahoma in 2008. That year, the Oklahoma Civil Rights Initiative attempted to pass this same language through an initiative petition. Those collecting signatures lied to the public, telling people that this measure would increase job opportunities.
We spoke to one older black man who was asked if he felt he had ever been denied a job or a promotion because he was black. The signature collector told the man that if he signed the petition this law would guarantee that it would never happen again.
The deceptive nature of this language has been challenged across the country. The ACLU of Oklahoma along with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund successfully filed a protest to the initiative petition and challenged the validity of the signature. We stopped this language from becoming law then, and we will fight to stop it from becoming law now.
Cox is legislative counsel for the ACLU of Oklahoma.