STATE JUSTICES OK ATTORNEY GENERAL'S WORDING ON BALLOT.
The state Supreme Court on Monday allowed Attorney General Dan Lungren's official ballot description of Proposition 209 to portray it as an anti-discrimination measure rather than a repeal of affirmative action.
In a brief order signed by Chief Justice Ronald George without comment or dissent, the court left intact an appellate ruling earlier Monday that reinstated Lungren's title and summary for the November initiative.
The dispute is important because opinion polls show that voters react differently to a ban on ``preference'' or a dismantling of ``affirmative action.''
The 3rd District Court of Appeal, reversing the decision of Sacramento County Superior Court Judge James Ford, said there was ``no legal or factual basis'' for Ford's Aug. 2 decision ordering Lungren to rewrite the description of Proposition 209 to include the proposal's impact on affirmative action.
Lungren's description largely repeated the wording of the initiative, saying that Proposition 209 barred ``government instrumentalities from discriminating against or giving preferential treatment to any individual or group'' in public jobs, education or contracting on the basis of ``race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin.''
Opponents of the initiative had complained in their lawsuit that Lungren, who publicly supports the proposal, had produced a biased and inaccurate summary of the initiative for the ballot pamphlet used by millions of California voters.
``It's very clear to us that Lungren was exercising a political agenda,'' No-on-209 spokeswoman Tanya Domi said after Monday's court action. ``The people of California have lost. We're going to take this to the voters, and we're going to get the message out that the real goal and agenda of Proposition 209 is to end affirmative action programs for women and minorities.''
But Lungren spokesman Steve Telliano said the court understood that ``the words `affirmative action' really do not belong in an impartial summary of Proposition 209, because the words are not in the initiative itself, and because the fate of affirmative action programs which do not make use of preferences or set-asides is not certain if Proposition 209 passes.''
Lungren's summary did not refer to affirmative action or any programs the initiative would repeal. Ford said the chief purpose of the measure appeared to be overturning affirmative action programs for women and minorities, and ordered Lungren to include that purpose in his summary. The judge said the language of the initiative, which does not mention affirmative action, may also be misleading.
But the three-member appellate panel rejected Ford's position, declaring that Lungren is required only to ``state the purpose and effect of the measure, not to reiterate selectively fragments of public commentary and debate on the measure.''
The court added that Lungren's description and summary repeated verbatim the language of the initiative itself.
``The attorney general has added nothing, omitted nothing and the words used are all subject to common understanding. The electorate can hardly be deceived by this essentially verbatim recital of the straightforward text of the initiative itself,'' the appellate justices said.
The core of the proposed initiative says that ``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.''
There is no mention of affirmative action, in which such factors as race and gender are included in deciding employment, contracting and admissions.
At issue is whether voters will look differently on an initiative that eliminates ``affirmative action'' or ``preferences.''