This was an article I wrote for The Sower which got bumped for space reasons. It explains what the NCRI is and presents the views of both sides. I tried to be impartial in presenting the facts for this article, but if you're interested in my opinion, I say vote for initiative 424!
What Will the Nebraska Civil Rights Initiative Do? Both Sides’ Opinions
On November 4, Nebraskans will cast their votes on the controversial Initiative Petition 424, the Nebraska Civil Rights Initiative (NCRI). The NCRI would add this amendment to the Nebraska Constitution: “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.”
According to Ward Connerly, who introduced the petition to Nebraska, the purpose of this proposed amendment is to end, “scholarships that are restricted on the basis of race or gender, programs that give preferential treatment to some over others, faculty hiring in which people are hired on the basis of race and promoted on the basis of race…It is designed to make sure everyone gets equal treatment, not preferential treatment.”
NETV aired a debate titled “Your Verdict: Affirmative Action on Trial.” Sharon Brown represented the NCRI, and David Kramer represented Nebraskans United, a group which is strongly opposed to the bill. Brown made her case first, and one of her witnesses was former Republican nominee for the Senate, Pete Ricketts. In his defense of the NCRI Ricketts quoted Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., who believed that people should “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” During his cross-examination of Ricketts, Kramer asked about the importance of diversity. Ricketts responded, “Diversity is something, I think, we all recognize as valuable. But how you accomplish that is what makes a difference. For instance, if you do it on skin color, that’s wrong, but if you want to give advantages to under-privileged children who come from [impoverished] neighborhoods, that’s absolutely appropriate.” This is an example of race-neutral affirmative action, which would not be affected by Initiative 424. Kramer only called one witness, State Senator Danielle Nantkes. She argued that “Quotas as preferences, as our opponents talk about, don’t exist in Nebraska in 2008, and so this…is a solution in search of a problem.”
Both groups agree on two principles. First, that we should have a color-blind society where equal protection of civil rights is protected by law. Second, they agree that diversity in education and the workplace is important. Moshman believes that the NCRI will increase protection of civil rights. In a column for the Lincoln Journal Star, he wrote, “In the event that federal law were to become less protective of civil rights, the state of Nebraska still would be forbidden to discriminate on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin.” However, Nebraskans United fear that the NCRI would hamper affirmative action programs and decrease diversity. In his opening statement in the debate, Kramer said that there would be “unforeseen consequences” if the NCRI was passed.
What affect will the bill have on affirmative action? Moshman wrote in his column that “the NCRI would not ban affirmative action. It would, however, restrict some kinds of affirmative action.” Moshman listed three different kinds of affirmative action: quotas, preferences, and outreach.
According to Moshman, quotas “have been unconstitutional since 1978,” therefore the NCRI will simply back up what federal law says about quotas.
Using preferences to increase diversity, in Moshman’s opinion, would be restricted by the NCRI. He defines preferences as “selection criteria or decisions that, in addition to consideration of relevant qualifications, favor some individuals over others on the basis of race, sex, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, political views or other factors…”
A third way employers and educators can increase diversity is by making efforts to increase the relevant application pool to include all qualified applicants, including those from under-represented groups. An example of this type of affirmative action would be an employer widely advertising openings including publications that reach minority communities. Moshman believes that nothing in the NCRI’s language which would threaten affirmative action programs that use outreach.
The NCRI is an amendment which is designed to protect civil rights, but possibly at the expense of diversity. In this debate, the proponents of the NCRI tend to be those who believe that equal protection under the constitution should take priority over some diversity programs. Nebraskans United tend to believe that maintaining diversity in schools and businesses takes precedence over NCRI, which would reaffirms equal protection clause of the 14th amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
(You can read David Moshman’s column in the Aug. 30 issue of the Lincoln Journal Star. Read the fill text of the NCRI at http://www.nebraskacri.org/ballotlanguage.html. All other quotes were obtained from “Your Verdict: Affirmative Action on Trial.”)