the Bush administration and Supreme Court,
an example of the need for affirmative action
is right in front of them
Teepen, Cox News Service
A debate is said to be under way in the White
House about whether the Bush administration should jump into
the affirmative-action case that the Supreme Court will take
up next year and, if so, on which side. At issue is the University
of Michigans use of race as a criterion for admission.
That there is a discussion within this administration
is encouragingand more than a little surprising.
Affirmative action was established and long
sustained with strong bi-partisan support; but, as with many
consensus policies, Republican sup- port has faded in recent
years as the GOP has become ever more conservative. Opposition
is a given, especially in the very rightward circles the Bush
Affirmative action is said in those quarters
to be an affront to the color- blind society that the same
quarters, denying the plain evidence, insist we have now become.
Michigan and other universities argue, sensibly,
that counting race is legitimate and necessaryin assembling
the socially diverse student body that is crucial for an effective
educational environment. After all, once students have cleared
the qualifying threshold in test scores, admissions officers
routinely calculate a variety of factors in making the final
cut, including geography, family background, extracurricular
activities, and alumni parents. They dont just work
mindlessly down the test-score list and quit when all openings
have been filled.
How bizarre it would be if race were singled
out as the one factor the schools may not take into account
in putting together a rounded campus community, thus perpetuating
for still another generation the only distinction among us
that, for the whole of our history, has been enforced by law,
prejudice, violence, and custom.
For evidence that diversity is an essential
learning tool, the presidentand when it comes to their
deliberations, the justicescould profitably recall the
pivotal role played by Associate Justice Clarence Thomas in
a recent case. Most justices seemed to be listening sympathetically
to arguments that criminalizing cross-burning violates free
speech until Thomas, making a rare utterance, forcefully explained
how cross-burningsunlike, for instance, flag-burningshave
had the sole purpose of intimidating black people. They make
no point; theyre acts of terrorism.
Thomass words were blunt, moving, dead-on,
and it became clear from their subsequent questions that the
other justices frame of reference had been changed by
them. Ironically, although he owes his position to affirmative
action, Thomas is a foe of the practice. But had he not been
on the court and able to bring his particular experience to
bear, the other justices would have been denied insights that
are essential to understanding the issue in real-world, rather
than abstract, terms.
The Bush administration could help the justices
see that universities should not be forbidden access to the