The head of a group opposing an initiative to end affirmative action and other preferential programs said she wants to block the measure from getting on the ballot in part because she fears a majority of Arizonans will vote for it.
Shanta Driver, national chair of By Any Means Necessary, said it is improper to push the measure as a "civil rights" initiative. She said that term connotes something to help minorities.
By contrast, she said, the main function of what's been dubbed the Arizona Civil Rights Initiative would be to end affirmative action programs, which she believes are still needed by blacks and Hispanics in the largely white society.
Driver, a Michigan attorney, acknowledged that she and other foes will get a chance to make their case if the measure goes on the November ballot. But she is pursuing a lawsuit to block it from getting that far because most Arizona voters are white.
"You have a situation in which you're asking a white majority to decide whether a Latino or black minority have equal rights," she said. "And that is something that we think cannot be put up to a vote."
Driver said putting this measure before Arizona voters, even in 2008, would be like asking Alabama residents in the 1950s to vote on equal rights for blacks.
Central to the question is what constitutes "civil rights." The measure would make it illegal to "discriminate against, or grant preferential 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."
Max McPhail, director of the Arizona Civil Rights Initiative, did not dispute Driver's contention that the main goal of the measure is to end any program that gives preferences to any group. He said, though, there is nothing misleading about calling it a "civil rights" initiative.
"Civil rights applies to all people, regardless of their race or their sex," McPhail said. "To give someone preference based on something like a characteristic like race goes against what civil rights really means."
But Pamela Brown, one of the people who signed the petition, said there is no question that the use of the words "civil rights" was designed to mislead.
Brown, who is black, said she grew up in the 1950s and 1960s watching TV coverage of fire hoses being turned on civil rights protestors in the South.
"When you say 'civil rights' to a person of my era, that's what we go back to," she said.
McPhail said anyone who actually read the text of the initiative, which legally must be attached to the petition, would see that it bans preferential treatment.
Brown, who signed the initiative, conceded that she did not look at the language.
The lawsuit, filed in Maricopa County Superior Court, contends that trying to put the initiative on the ballot using "racially-targeted fraud" violates constitutional provisions both protecting equal rights as well as free elections.
That, the legal papers say, should automatically mean that the initiative is not entitled to go on the ballot.