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Bush Blows His Chance…House Democrats File Brief Supporting Affirmative Action

Bush Blows His Chance On Affirmative Action

Ruben Navarrette Jr.

February 9, 2003
Copyright © 2003 All rights reserved.

DALLAS--I am not a big fan of racial preferences. So I should be delighted by President Bush's recent assault on the admissions policies at the University of Michigan.

But I'm not. I'm disappointed.

When it comes to ethnic and racial issues, Bush is right more times than he is wrong. But judging from his remarks regarding the Michigan program, he is wrong this time.

He is wrong on the law, and he is wrong on the facts. The law says that colleges can take note of race as long as they don't resort to using a numerical quota. The facts indicate that the University of Michigan, in trying to achieve a racially diverse student body, takes the race of applicants into account in both undergraduate and law school admissions. In neither instance, however, does the university rely on a quota. The only time the school even comes close is its undergraduate admissions, where there is a point system. On a 150-point scale, 20 points are given to applicants who are Hispanic, African-American, or American Indian.

That is a preference, and the University of Michigan should have done without it. But it is not a quota.

The president is also wrong on the politics. This is a sloppy blunder by the White House, one that will only make it easier for Democrats to continue to reap the votes of Hispanics and African-Americans without having to go to the trouble of actually earning them.

Worst of all, Bush is wrong about who racial preference programs really victimize.

Here's a hint: It's not individuals like the three white students who sued the University of Michigan after being rejected, insisting that they had suffered discrimination because of their race.

Arguments like that defy the imagination. If having white skin keeps one out of the University of Michigan, then how is it that the school ended up with a student body more than 50 percent white? It is understandable that, confronted with rejection, the three students prefer to blame minorities. But, given the percentages, the odds are that they were beaten out in the admissions process not by Hispanics or African-Americans or American Indians but by applicants who looked like them.

Not one to bow to common sense, President Bush last week declared his solidarity with the Michigan Three. Bush indicated that his administration would file a brief with the Supreme Court, which is scheduled to hear arguments in the case in April. Bush said the brief would ask the nine justices to declare the Michigan program unconstitutional. But when the brief materialized, the administration stopped short of doing what conservatives wanted it to do: declare loud and clear that race should never, under any circumstances, be a factor in college or university admissions.

While Bush showed restraint on paper, he showed none at the podium. In his remarks, he called racial preferences "divisive, unfair and impossible to square with our Constitution." He had stronger words for the Michigan program itself, which he called "fundamentally flawed" and a "quota system that unfairly rewards or penalizes students based on their race."

There is that word again. Maybe Bush simply got the terms wrong. After all, it has happened before. Maybe he just made an honest mistake and confused the word "preference" with the word "quota." Or maybe the president knew exactly what he was saying and said exactly what some of his more right-wing advisers urged him to say. Could it be that Bush--in seizing on the hot-button word "quota"--was talking in racial code, the very thing for which he blasted former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott?

Either way, President Bush blew it. Not only did he take the wrong stand for the wrong reasons, he also missed the chance to put to rest this lunacy about "reverse discrimination" and put forward a fresher and more relevant critique of racial preferences in college admissions.

Here's what the president should have said: "Today, I am asking every college and university president in the country to consider the possibility that overt racial preferences hurt those they intend to help. These preferences lower standards, mask the failures of public education at the K-12 level, and leave beneficiaries at the mercy of liberals who go through life believing that they alone are responsible for what others have accomplished. These preferences do more harm than good, and they should be eliminated."

Now that is what we would expect from someone who considers himself a compassionate conservative.

House Democrats File Court Brief Supporting Affirmative Action

Bush Critical Of Policy At University Of Michigan

February 13, 2003
Copyright © 2003 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Nearly 100 House Democrats, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, filed a brief with the Supreme Court in support of the University of Michigan's affirmative action admissions policy.

"The issue is as fundamental as our democracy itself," Pelosi, a California Democrat, said Thursday in announcing the suit. "We must not deprive these young people of their opportunity."

Members of the black, Hispanic and Asian House caucuses criticized President Bush for an administration legal brief opposing Michigan's race-based admissions policy.

Bush said on January 15 that he supports diversity in higher education, but that Michigan's program "unfairly rewards or penalizes students based solely on their race."

The next day, the administration filed a brief urging the Supreme Court to strike down the university's policies.

Michigan's admissions policies have been under fire since 1997, when the university was sued by two whites denied admission to its undergraduate school and a third denied admission to its law school. Each claimed they were passed over in favor of less-qualified minority students.

Applicants for Michigan's undergraduate classes are scored by points, with minorities or some poor applicants receiving a boost of 20 points on a scale of 150. At the law school, admissions officers use a looser formula that tries to ensure each class has a "critical mass" of about 10 percent or 12 percent minority enrollment.

The Bush administration says the point system is skewed toward minorities, noting that a perfect SAT score is worth just 12 points, and an outstanding essay gets three points.

The Supreme Court has scheduled back-to-back arguments on the two lawsuits for April 1.

The cases are Grutter v. Bollinger, 02-241 and Gratz v. Bollinger, 02-516.

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