Gavin Newsom

California Governor Vetoes Legislation Targeting Caste Discrimination

Governor Gavin Newsom of California has vetoed Senate Bill 403, a bill aimed at being the first in the U.S. to prohibit discrimination based on caste.

Newsom stated in an announcement on October 7 that the legislation, which would have made California the first place outside South Asia to outlaw caste-based prejudice, was redundant because it duplicated protections offered by current laws.

“Because discrimination based on caste is already prohibited under these existing categories, this bill is unnecessary,” the governor said.

The California Assembly passed the bill 50-3 on August 28, introducing caste as a protected classification within the official anti-discrimination policies of the state. 

Senate Bill 403 was approved six months after Seattle became the first American city to prohibit caste-based discrimination, when its city council voted 6-1 in favor of a resolution similar to the proposed California legislation.

However, there are 1st Amendment implications in the Seattle resolution, the proposed legislation and a California Civil Rights Department suit against Cisco Systems Inc. over allegations of caste-based discrimination against an undisclosed Indian-American employee who was born into the Dalit community.  

In September 2022, the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), a prominent Hindu advocacy organization, filed a lawsuit in federal court, alleging the California Civil Rights Department acted unconstitutionally in filing the Cisco suit, contesting California’s power to “define what Hindus believe and decide how they practice their religion, in violation of the First Amendment.”

“Stopping caste-based discrimination is a worthy goal that directly furthers Hinduism’s belief in the equal and divine essence of all people,” the complaint states. “But wrongly tying Hindu beliefs and practices to the abhorrent practice of caste discrimination undermines that goal, violates the First Amendment rights of all Hindu Americans, and can only lead to a denial of due process to Americans based on their religious affiliation.” 

“Instead of protecting the civil rights of its Hindu residents, California’s Civil Rights Department is actually violating them by telling them what they must believe and demonizing their religious tradition,” said Suhag Shukla, Esq., HAF’s Executive Director.