Equal protection under the law is the foundation of the fight against discrimination. Here, famously, is the U.S Constitution on the issue:
“No State shall…deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
And here is the Constitution of the State of California:
“A person may not be…denied equal protection of the laws.”
But in California, left-wing lawmakers dominating the state legislature launched assaults on equal protection, passing two measures that mandated quotas for corporate boards. Senate Bill 826 required every publicly held corporation to have at least one director “who self-identifies her gender as a woman.” Assembly Bill 979 required corporations to have between one and three directors from “underrepresented communities,” defined as “Black, African American, Hispanic, Latino, Pacific Islander, Native American, Native Hawaiian, or Alaska Native, or [those who self-identify] as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.”
Many California taxpayers were alarmed by the new laws. This was not an arcane fight over corporate board membership: bedrock constitutional principles were at stake, and other quota laws seemed sure to follow. Whatever happened to picking people based on qualifications such as relevant work and life experience? And as Judicial Watch attorneys would later note in two separate court cases: laws that explicitly distinguish between individuals on the grounds of racial, ethnic, or gender status, or sexual preference, are directly prohibited by the equal protection clause.
Judicial Watch joined with three California taxpayers—Robin Crest, Earl De Vires, and Judy De Vires—to fight the laws. Judicial Watch attorneys argued that the laws were unconstitutional—blatant violations of the equal protection clause of the California Constitution—and any use of taxpayer funds to enforce compliance was illegal.
Assembly Bill 979—the move to enforce racial, ethnic, and LGBTQ quotas—was rife with “stereotypes,” Judicial Watch noted. The law demeaned individuals, shunting aside “their very worth as citizens” and evaluating them according to criteria “barred to the government by history and the Constitution.” In October 2020, Judicial Watch sued to overturn the law.
“California’s government has a penchant for quotas that are brazenly unconstitutional,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton at the time. “Gender quotas and now new quotas for numerous other groups for corporate boards are slaps in the face to the core American value of equal protection under the law.”
Challenging Senate Bill 826 in a separate court proceeding, Judicial Watch attorneys noted that the law was a clear violation of California’s equal protection clause. Lawyers for the state argued that not only were the gender quotas a legitimate means of remedying discrimination, but women on boards improved corporate performance as well. Judicial Watch shot down the improved performance claim, presenting expert witness testimony that the studies of improved board performance relied on by the state were, at best, deficient and unreliable.
The courts sided with Judicial Watch.
Setting aside Assembly Bill 979, Judge Terry A. Green wrote in a 24-page opinion that the law “violates the Equal Protection Clause of the California Constitution on its face.” In a sharp rebuke, he castigated the state legislature for not protecting “the right of individuals to equal treatment.”
Judge Green wrote: “The difficulty is that the Legislature is thinking in group terms. But the California Constitution protects the right of individuals to equal treatment. Before the Legislature may require that members of one group be given certain board seats, it must first try to create neutral conditions under which qualified individuals from any group may succeed. That attempt was not made in this case.”
Judge Maureen Duffy-Lewis was equally uncompromising in her rejection of the gender quota law, Senate Bill 826, determining it “violates the Equal Protection Clause of the California Constitution.”
In her verdict, Judge Duffy-Lewis denounced the legislation. Senate Bill 826’s goal “was not to boost California’s economy, not to improve opportunities for women in the workplace…not to protect California taxpayers, public employees, pensions and retirees”—all claims made by the state at trial. It’s goal “was to achieve general equity or parity…the Legislature’s actual purpose was gender-balancing, not remedying discrimination.”
In fact, there was no discrimination. Corporations have voluntarily engaged in good-faith efforts for years to put more qualified woman and minorities on their boards. “There is no compelling governmental interest in remedying discrimination in the board selection process,” Judge Duffy-Lewis noted, “because neither the Legislature nor Defendant could identify any specific, purposeful, intentional and unlawful discrimination to be remedied.”
Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton saluted the two court victories and pointed to the big issues at stake. “The radical Left’s unprecedented attacks on anti-discrimination law has suffered another stinging defeat,” he said. “Thankfully, California courts have upheld the core American value of equal protection under the law. Judicial Watch’s taxpayer clients are heroes for standing up for civil rights against the Left’s pernicious efforts to undo anti-discrimination protections. Judicial Watch’s legal team has helped protect the civil rights of every American with these successful lawsuits.”