Conservative group is suing to block S.F. grants to Black mothers, trans residents

To support some of its neediest families, San Francisco started a program in 2020 to provide $1,000 a month to 150 pregnant Black and Pacific Islander women, and then to their newborn children. Since then, the city and the state have offered similar subsidies to minority artists and to transgender and nonbinary residents, with a priority for non-white recipients.

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But the U.S. Supreme Court altered the legal landscape this June when it ruled that affirmative-action programs that allowed colleges to consider an applicant’s race or ethnicity violated the constitutional rights of white and Asian American students. And now a conservative group is claiming similar constitutional violations by San Francisco and the state of California.

The programs funded by San Francisco and the state “unlawfully choose their beneficiaries based on race, ethnicity, gender/gender identity, and sexual orientation,” an organization called the Californians for Equal Rights Foundation argues in a lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court. “Each of the programs … is currently engaging in precisely the kind of intentional racial discrimination the Constitution forbids.”

The suit seeks court orders barring state and city funding of the challenged programs. It was first reported by the nonprofit KFF Health News.

The Supreme Court ruling had a limited impact in California, whose voters had outlawed affirmative action in state colleges and universities in 1996 and refused to reinstate it in 2020. The ruling went further by banning consideration of applicants’ race at private schools like Stanford and the University of Southern California.

But the outcome of the new lawsuit could signal whether state and local governments have any remaining authority to enact programs that benefit minority groups.

The suit was initially filed in May, in apparent anticipation of the Supreme Court ruling. The only response so far has been a filing from the city attorney’s office denying that any of the city’s programs are illegal or unconstitutional. 

“The challenged actions were undertaken in good faith, were neither arbitrary or capricious, were a proper exercise of discretion and represented a good faith and reasonable construction of the applicable laws,” Deputy City Attorney Kaitlyn Murphy wrote in July.

When San Francisco announced its subsidies for pregnant women, called the Abundant Birth Project, officials said Black families accounted for 4% of all childbirths in the city but for more than 15% of infant deaths and half of all maternal deaths each year. Pacific Islander babies had the second-highest premature birth rate in the city at 10.4%, according to the same records.

The project has been funded by the city and philanthropic donations. According to the lawsuit, similar programs have begun in other Bay Area communities and Los Angeles, and the state had provided $5 million in funding as of last November.

“San Francisco denies that the Abundant Birth Project is unlawful or unconstitutional in any manner,” Alex Barrett-Shorter, spokesperson for City Attorney David Chiu, said in a statement Monday. “We look forward to discussing these matters further in court.”

The state Department of Public Health declined to comment on the case.

Another project challenged in the suit was the Guaranteed Income Plan for Artists, which provided $1,000 a month to participating artists. The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the nonprofit that oversees the program, does not limit participants by race or ethnicity — but the suit contended it accomplishes the same thing by asking applicants whether their practice is, in the center’s words, “rooted in a historically marginalized community.”

Yerba Buena and San Francisco Mayor London Breed “largely achieved their intended discriminatory goals,” attorney Bradley Benbrook wrote in the lawsuit. As a result, he said, the grants have been awarded to Native American, Black and LGBTQ artists at rates far above their shares of the city’s population.

But the city attorney’s office said San Francisco no longer funds or takes part in the program and it is run by an independent organization called Creative Communities Coalition for Guaranteed Income.

The city said it has continued funding another target of the lawsuit, a program called Guaranteed Income for Transgender People, or GIFT. It provides $1,200 per month for 18 months to low-income transgender or non-binary residents. The suit said applicants who are non-white or Indigenous are given priority.

Click here to read the full article in the SF Chronicle

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