- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 27, 2003

Ever since it began insisting that the only way to stop racial discrimination is through the use of racial preferences, consistency has never been a strong point for the civil-rights establishment. To see this, one needn't do more than compare "Wrong Then, Wrong Now: Racial Profiling Before and After September 11, 2001" a report just published by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR) with the position the organization is taking in the University of Michigan affirmative-action cases, which will be argued before the Supreme Court Apr. 1.

"Wrong Then, Wrong Now" endeavors to compare the old-fashioned, street coptype of racial profiling with the post-9/11 profiling of Arabs, Muslims and Middle Easterners. The Leadership Conference is against both, and there is no logical inconsistency with that. But, that's not what's remarkable about the report. What is remarkable and foolishly inconsistent is the contradiction between the civil rights establishment's opposition to the use of race by law enforcement agencies to prevent crime or terrorism, on the one hand, and its adamant support of universities using race in admissions, on the other.

The contradiction is most glaring in the report's own definition of profiling: "Racial profiling is any use of race, religion, ethnicity, or national origin by law enforcement agents as a means of deciding who should be investigated … . Under this definition, racial profiling doesn't only occur when race is the sole criterion used by a law enforcement agent in determining who [sic] to investigate … . Selective enforcement based in part on race, is no less pernicious or offensive to the principle of equal justice than is enforcement based solely on race."

Fair enough. According to the definitions set out by the Leadership Conference's own report, race should never be a factor a law-enforcement officer takes into account when attempting to prevent crime or terrorism. Police can't dodge the fact that they are discriminating by arguing that race is "just one of the factors" they consider in deciding whom to pull over.

Yet, compare this position with the stance the Leadership Conference took in a friend-of-the-court brief filed at almost exactly the same time with the Supreme Court. The cases there challenge the use of race in university admissions at the University of Michigan. The brief says: "LCCR support the use of race as one factor in admissions policies to preserve diversity in the nation's colleges and universities." It furthermore states, "At the University of Michigan and elsewhere, race is only one of many factors considered in admissions decisions. The court should be loath to constrain education professionals in making these important decisions, particularly when those decisions have a reasoned, empirical basis."

Confused? Join the club.

The Leadership Conference is talking out of both sides of its mouth. It is saying that university educators can use race as one factor among others in admissions because, in its view, that helps minorities. But cops and homeland defense officers should never use it as a factor in their line of work, because, in its view, that hurts minorities.

It's no wonder so many ordinary citizens are exasperated about the civil rights establishment's views on race and ethnicity. Is race something we are supposed to pay attention to or ignore? Regardless of how the Leadership Conference tries to argue for both sides, it doesn't work.

Consider what happens if you follow their reasoning: If race can be one factor among many in college admissions, then why can't race be one factor among many during the sentencing phase of a criminal trial? After all, African Americans statistically have higher recidivism rates than whites. Why can't race be one factor among others used by credit officers in assessing who's eligible for a loan? Default rates for blacks are higher than for whites, after all. From these real-life situations, it is a short hop to questioning why race can't be just one reason among many for a restaurant owner to refuse service to a group of somewhat rowdy teen-agers, who just happen to be black. It's a slippery slope, and the best way to stay off it is to refuse to allow race to be considered in any of these situations.

If the Supreme Court takes the advice of the Leadership Conference and adopts the "one-factor-among-many" approach to school admissions, it will usher in another generation of racial confusion and polarization, to say nothing of litigation.

Either race tells us something significant about an individual, or it doesn't. If law enforcement agencies can't use race to prevent crime or terrorism, then neither can universities use race to achieve racially proportionate student bodies.

It's that simple. The Leadership Conference can't have it both ways.


Edward Blum is a senior fellow and Roger Clegg is general counsel at the Center for Equal Opportunity in Sterling Virginia. (www.ceousa.org)

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