Proposition 16 is a constitutional amendment that would repeal Proposition 209, passed in 1996, from the California Constitution. Proposition 209 stated that discrimination and preferential treatment were prohibited in public employment, public education, and public contracting on account of a person's or group's race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin. Therefore, Proposition 209 banned the use of affirmative action involving race-based or sex-based preferences in California.
In Hi-Voltage Wire Works v. San Jose (2000), the California Supreme Court held that, within the context of Proposition 209, discrimination means "to make distinctions in treatment; show partiality (in favor of) or prejudice (against)" and preferential means "a giving of priority or advantage to one person ... over others."
Without Proposition 209, the state government, local governments, public universities, and other political subdivisions and public entities would—within the limits of federal law—be allowed to develop and use affirmative action programs that grant preferences based on race, sex, color, ethnicity, and national origin in public employment, public education, and public contracting.