In a significant blow to a national effort to curtail equal opportunity in America, backers of a proposed amendment to the Oklahoma Constitution that would end equal access and opportunity programs in the state asked the Oklahoma Supreme Court on April 4, 2008 to withdraw the measure from consideration. The move comes after supporters of the so-called Oklahoma Civil Rights Initiative -spearheaded by wealthy California businessman Ward Connerly's American Civil Rights Institute (ACRI) as part of a national crusade against affirmative action - failed to collect a sufficient number of valid signatures needed to get the proposal on this November's ballot. In conceding defeat, Connerly characterized the ACRI's efforts in Oklahoma as a "miscalculation" and "a roll of the dice."

"When Ward Connerly rolled the dice by filing his ill-conceived petition, he gambled with not only his funds but also Oklahoma taxpayer dollars," said Chuck Thornton, ACLU of Oklahoma Legal Director.

Oklahoma is one of five states, along with Arizona, Colorado, Missouri and Nebraska, currently targeted by Connerly and his ACRI. The deceptively worded initiatives claim to end "discrimination" and "preferences," but have been cited as the basis for rolling back a wide range of affirmative action programs in each state where they have been adopted. The ACRI has been accused of deliberately misleading voters in every state where it has campaigned, including a year-and-a-half year ago in Michigan, where a federal court found the organization had engaged in voter fraud.

"The hope is that this is the beginning of the end of Mr. Connerly's flawed campaign," said John Payton, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF). "The attempts by supporters of this initiative to manipulate the democratic process never garnered support from the people of Oklahoma, who have instead stood up to defend access to equal opportunity for all."

"The most recent developments in Oklahoma only lend further legitimacy to the widespread concerns that have been raised about the tactics used by Connerly in each of the states he has targeted," said Reginald T. Shuford, ACLU Racial Justice Program Senior Staff Attorney. "The efforts of Connerly and the ACRI are an affront to the ideals they claim to support, and my hope is that this is only the first of a string of victories on behalf of the many Americans who believe so strongly in equality and equal opportunity."

The withdrawal follows a lawsuit challenging the proposal by the ACLU Foundation of Oklahoma, LDF, ACLU Racial Justice Program, and the ACLU
Women's Rights Project, which raised deep concerns about the signature-gathering process and the constitutionality of the ballot petition itself.

"Secretary of State Susan Savage found numerous irregularities in the signature-gathering process," said Thornton. "We continue to find such deficiencies in our on-the-ground investigation, consistent with the beliefs of OCRI's own backers that its petition is defective and should be withdrawn."