Standing Up to Racism

by | Jan 14, 2003 | POLITICS, Racism

The Bush administration is currently debating whether to file briefs in a pair of affirmative action cases now before the Supreme Court. The cases, arising from admissions policies at the University of Michigan, involve that school’s explicit use of race in assessing student qualifications. Although President Bush is on record as opposing this type of […]

The Bush administration is currently debating whether to file briefs in a pair of affirmative action cases now before the Supreme Court. The cases, arising from admissions policies at the University of Michigan, involve that school’s explicit use of race in assessing student qualifications. Although President Bush is on record as opposing this type of “affirmative action,” political pressure from within the White House may prevent the Justice Department from taking a stand against the Michigan policy.

According to news reports, Solicitor General Ted Olson–the government’s chief lawyer before the Supreme Court–submitted a brief to the White House earlier this month opposing Michigan’s policy. White House aides, allegedly including counsel to the president Alberto Gonzales, oppose filing Olson’s brief for fear it will incite a backlash against Republicans. Following the ouster of Senate Republican leader Trent Lott, the White House seems to possess a hyper-sensitivity to charges of racism. On the other hand, not filing a brief will subject the president to charges of hypocrisy from his conservative supporters.

The administration must make a final decision by January 16, the Court’s deadline for briefs supporting the petitioners. A number of groups, including the Center for the Advancement of Capitalism, plan to file briefs that day asking the Court to hold the Michigan policy unconstitutional. Although the solicitor general’s brief will not likely decide the ultimate outcome, the Court traditionally affords great weight to the government’s opinion on constitutional matters, and General Olson’s brief would certainly strengthen the case against Michigan’s policy.

It’s remarkable the administration is even debating this question. The president campaigned in 2000 against the types of affirmative action policies typified by Michigan. As governor of Texas, President Bush abolished the University of Texas’ affirmative action policies, and replaced it with a merit-based “affirmative access” plan that admitted the top 10% of high school graduates in the state regardless of race.

Political posturing aside, there is no evidence that the president changed his mind about affirmative action. He still opposes it. And if that’s the case, the Michigan policy should be a no-brainer. The policy involves an explicit racial quota that awards 20 points (out of 105 required for admission) simply for being black, Hispanic, or Native American–“underrepresented minorities” in the words of the university. To put this in perspective, Michigan only awards 12 points for a perfect SAT score, 1600 combined. That’s simply remarkable. A measure of actual achievement is not even considered equal to skin color, even though the latter says nothing about the character, intelligence, or ability of the individual. At best, Michigan administrators are simply lazy, assigning value to race so they can avoid individual assessments. At worst, the university is fueling racism and balkanization on their own campus.

To call someone an “underrepresented minority” is to reject individualism. After all, if a man is no more than a proxy for a racial group, there is no point in even bothering to assess his individual qualifications or merits. Simply obtaining a “critical mass”–the university’s euphemism for

S. M. Oliva is president of Citizens for Voluntary Trade and a senior fellow at the Center for the Advancement of Capitalism.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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