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Lawsuit over anti-affirmative action ballot initiative argued in Jefferson City

By Marshall Griffin, KWMU

Jefferson City, MO – The language used in an anti-Affirmative Action ballot initiative is at the center of a lawsuit heard Monday in Jefferson City.

In a statement on the group's website, The Missouri Civil Rights Initiative says their goal is to remove racial and gender preferences in hiring, education and contracting.

Executive Director Tim Asher says the original ballot language expresses that goal.

But he alleges in their suit that Secretary of State Robin Carnahan wrote a misleading ballot summary that claims the initiative would ban programs designed to eliminate discrimination.

"To categorize it as a ban on affirmative action seems to be pretty broad, pretty far reaching, in terms of what this would effectively do," Asher said.

The ballot question reads:

"Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to:

1. ban affirmative action programs designed to eliminate discrimination against, and improve opportunities for, women and minorities in public contracting, employment and education; and

2. allow preferential treatment based on race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin to meet federal program funds eligibility standards as well as preferential treatment for bona fide qualifications based on sex?"

Jack McManus with the Attorney General's office represents the Secretary of State and the State Auditor's offices in the case.

He defended the change in wording before Cole County Circuit Judge Richard Callahan.

"And I believe people looking at this would conclude that, in fact, it does capture the essence of what this amendment is all about...there is no deception here, people will know what this is about...it's about Affirmative Action," McManus said.

The Missouri Civil Rights Initiative is suing over the ballot language.

Judge Callahan has taken the case under advisement and will issue a ruling at a later date.