Online NewsHour: Proposition 209 – November 3, 1997

MARGARET WARNER: Today the Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to California’s Proposition 209. The 1996 initiative bans race or gender from being a factor in state hiring or contracting decisions and state college or university admissions. We get more now from NewsHour regular Stuart Taylor, senior writer with National Journal and contributing editor to Newsweek.

Stuart, first, just explain what exactly did the court do today?

STUART TAYLOR, National Journal: Strictly speaking, all they did was nine simple words; the petition for a writ of certiorari is denied. What that means is we’re not going to hear this case. They issued it without comment and without dissent. They didn’t say why they weren’t going to hear it. Typically, they do that hundreds–thousands of times each year, and it’s usually not–it’s never a precedent, a national precedent when they do it, and it’s usually not much of a news event. This time, I think, because of the vast importance of this case it is a substantial news event.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Explain what you mean when you say it isn’t a precedent?

STUART TAYLOR: That means that in lower courts that lower courts around the country are not bound by what the court did today. The U.S. Court of Appeals from the 9th Circuit upheld the constitutionality of Proposition 209, and in the western states that are within its jurisdiction that is now law. But let’s say if Florida–which has thought about adopting a similar measure–does so–and there’s a challenge there, the federal courts in that part of the country will not be banned by what the Supreme Court did today. They will at least theoretically have the option of saying, well, we think it’s unconstitutional. In that sense the argument is not resolved for all time.

MARGARET WARNER: And what is the significance of the court not making any comment whatsoever? They could have made some written comment.