Lawsuit accuses county contracting programs of using race-based preferences

A lawsuit has been filed by Californians for Equal Rights Foundation against two public contracting programs in Alameda, California, County because they award jobs based on race.

The Pacific Legal Foundation is handling the case on behalf of CFER and two individual plaintiffs.

“Racial quotas in public contracting, just as racial quotas elsewhere, are wrong and unconstitutional,” said PLF senior attorney Wen Fa. “The government should not be depriving opportunities for small businesses engaged in public contracting — and the Alameda County public contracting programs are particularly pernicious because they deprive opportunities based on race.”

The case accuses the Alameda County Public Works Agency of running a “Construction Compliance Program,” and the General Services Agency of overseeing an “Enhanced Construction Outreach Program.”

Each of those programs demands a 15% “participation goal,” that operates essentially as set-asides. Only certified minority-owned businesses are eligible for some of the work required by the county.

“The set-asides force general contractors to discriminate against subcontractors, and in many cases, they work to exclude subcontractors in certain fields from obtaining jobs just because they are not minority-owned,” the legal team explained.

The programs, both paid for by local taxpayers, violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and California’s constitutional ban on racial preference, the complaint charges.

“California’s voters sent a strong message that they are serious about protecting the time-honored right of equality before the law, in 1996 when they approved Proposition 209, and again in 2020 when they defeated its repeal,” explained Gail Heriot, the executive vice president for CFER. “Government favors on racial grounds have a pernicious past and do not belong in the 21st century.”

“The government should not be picking winners and losers on the basis of race or color,” added Chunhua Liao, co-plaintiff in the lawsuit and an Alameda County taxpayer, “Furthermore, no public agency should expend taxpayers’ money to hand out race-preferential construction contracts. Alameda County is clearly violating the California Constitution and we will prevail in our legal challenge.”

The complaint points out that there is no “compelling government interest” even remotely linked to a race-based program of contracting.

Nor is any “racial discrimination” being “remedied” by the actions.

The case seeks a declaratory judgment that the race-based programs are in violation of the state and federal constitutions, and a permanent injunction halting enforcement of the race-based procedures.

“Thisi county should cease to distribute benefits and burdens on the bases of race, but instead recognize – as the proponents of Proposition 209 put it 26 years ago – that ‘we are individuals.'”