Prop. 16: Everything you need to know about affirmative action measure

Students walk on the UCLA campus.
(Los Angeles Times)

Proposition 16 would allow the reinstatement of affirmative action programs in California and repeal the decades-old ban on preferential treatment by public colleges and other government agencies based on race, ethnicity or sex.

Here is a rundown of the issue:

The details

Under Proposition 16, public universities, including the University of California and California State systems, would be allowed to consider race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin to address diversity in admissions and other programs. Both state and local governments would be allowed to consider those same factors when hiring government employees and awarding government contracts.

The proposition, placed on the ballot by the Democrat-controlled California Legislature, would repeal Proposition 209, a highly controversial measure approved by voters in 1996, which banned affirmative action at public universities.

Prop. 209 came in a very different political climate, part of several measures about issues of race and immigration, most notably Prop. 187, the 1994 measure that banned immigrants here illegally from getting some public benefits. Voters approved 187 but it was later thrown out by the courts. Prop. 209, by contrast, survived legal challenges.

The state of play

Prop. 16 comes amid the protests over the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis and the racial reckoning that followed.


Backers say Floyd‘s death underscores the institutional racism that should dispel any notion that America is a colorblind society. They see it as a way to increase the ranks of Black and Latino people in public universities and give people of color a more level playing field. Critics argue Prop. 16 goes counter to the idea of individual merit. Some argue that Prop. 209 forced better academic preparation of students of color, which they say helped increase college graduation rates.

Prop. 16 is endorsed by many top California Democratic leaders. But recent polls suggest it faces an uphill fight even in blue California.

Reading list

Proposition 16 asks Californians to give affirmative action another try

Can Prop. 16 boost California’s Latino-, Black-, Asian- and women-owned companies?

Should California allow affirmative action? Here’s why some say the UC isn’t diverse enough

Racial inequity in California is real. But is Prop. 16 the answer?

Latino ambivalence about affirmative action could doom Prop. 16

Are Californians serious about fighting systemic racism? Prop. 16 will tell

Affirmative action measure Prop. 16 has Latinos divided, uncertain