Idaho Governor Signs Affirmative Action Ban Into Law

April 1, 2020 Updated: April 1, 2020

Idaho Gov. Brad Little on Monday signed into law legislation to eliminate affirmative action in state or local government hiring, contracting, and public education.

The finalized version of House Bill 440, sponsored by Republican state Rep. Heather Scott, prohibits the state from granting special 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.” The bill passed on largely party-line votes in state legislation before heading to the Republican governor’s desk.

“We can promote diversity, but we should refuse to reduce people down to their skin color or some other trait,” Scott said. “Frankly it is offensive. Hiring decisions should be about merit and competency and the best person for the job, regardless of that person’s traits.”

Meanwhile, Democratic state Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, the only African American member of the Idaho legislature, argued during a Senate debate that the bill “would actually accomplish the opposite of its intent.”

“When one is not even conscious of discriminatory behavior, it’s very difficult to see,” she said, reported Idaho Press. “It’s not about numbers. It’s about how we treat each other. It’s about who has equal opportunity.”

By signing the bill into law, Idaho joined Arizona, California, Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, and Washington to become the ninth state that bans race and sex preferences in public employment, contracting, and public school admissions.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2014 upheld Michigan’s constitutional amendment to ban preferential treatment in admission to public universities on the basis of race. The 6-2 court opinion, written by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, stated that this amendment does not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment because it was approved by Michigan’s voters, who have the right to make such a decision about their public education institutes. Similarly, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in 2012 in a lawsuit brought by University of California schools and the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action (CDAA) that California’s affirmative action ban is constitutional.

Also signed by Little on Monday was a bill prohibiting transgender females from participating in girls’ and women’s sports. The bill, known as the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, states “athletic teams or sports designated for females, women, or girls shall not be open to students of the male sex.”