- The Washington Times - Monday, April 30, 2001

Supporters of colorblind equal rights have been high-fiving one another over their court victory last month in a University of Michigan law school admissions case in which a Detroit federal judge ruled the school violated the Constitution by using an applicants race to achieve campus "diversity." The decision offsets the results in a nearly identical University of Michigan undergraduate case last year in which a different federal judge concluded just the opposite. Because most observers have concluded the Supreme Court will shortly settle this dispute, conservatives have been breaking out the champagne in anticipation of a big victory. But before the celebrants get too confident that affirmative action is just one punch away from a knockout, they better take note of an unlikely group of individuals who have begun to quietly question whether the fight against racial preferences should be made at all.

In one of life´s great ironies, the re-thinking about the fight over racial preferences is coming from a group that usually supports colorblind legal principles: Republican elected officials.

Republican incumbents have become frustrated by their endless failure to attract black voters. This has led them to conclude that their best political tactic is to avoid hot button issues to which the black electorate is keenly sensitive and responds with a big voter turnout. These issues include hate crimes, reparations and the entire array of programs labeled affirmative action.

This "don´t stir 'em up" policy is reflected in the Republican Party´s aloofness to anti-preference voter initiatives such as the ones in California, Washington, Florida and Houston. Florida´s Gov. Jeb Bush was especially hostile to efforts to end racial preferences through a proposed statewide referendum last year. Houston´s effort to end preferences in 1997 failed after the mayor and City Council changed the initiative´s wording, but not before the Republican candidate for mayor at the time denounced it as divisive and encouraged his supporters to vote against it. Just recently, when word spread through Colorado and Michigan that anti-preference initiatives may be on the ballot in those states in 2002, Republican incumbents and their advisers went apoplectic.

Considering the political fallout of ending affirmative action, some Republicans are wondering if they wouldn´t be better off concentrating the fight someplace else, like school choice or faith-based initiatives. The Bush administration seems to have signed on to the proposition. For example, Attorney General John Ashcroft declined to withdraw a Clinton-era legal brief defending school busing in a Charlotte, N.C., lawsuit even though a handful of conservative policy groups lobbied him to do so. Others have speculated the Justice Department won´t weigh in on cases that could end preferences in school admissions, or if they do, they will endorse the diversity/tie-breaker rationale offered by the University of Michigan.

Yet, in spite of these concerns, there are real dangers for Republicans and conservatives to back away from fighting race-based policies.

On the political front, racial preferences are enormously unpopular among most voters. Proof is found from the results of Washington state´s 1998 anti-preference referendum, I-200, which passed by huge margins in congressional districts that unseated Republican incumbents and elected liberal Democrat challengers. Throughout the state, even in districts that gave Bill Clinton and Al Gore wide margins, I-200 was a big winner. Republican candidates that year, however, ran from the issue; one cynically hopeless Republican endorsed it the day after it passed.

Republican fears of energizing black voters have cost them political points from white voters as well. Instead of clearly and honestly articulating colorblind principles, most Republican candidates hem and haw when asked about affirmative action. Instead of stating their disapproval of all raced-based policies from police profiling to government contracts they sheepishly whisper their support of diversity and opposition to quotas. Black and white voters see through this. People distrust someone who they think is finessing a thorny political issue and they certainly don´t admire a candidate´s lack of courage and conviction. Many voters didn´t like Al Gore´s position on affirmative action, but they categorically knew where he stood. George Bush´s "affirmative access" alternative pleased no one.

The Republicans can´t emulate the Neville Chamberlain model of issues resolution if it hopes to remain the governing national party. Republican appeasement on affirmative action threatens to keep principled voters at home during the next election. A result Republicans can´t afford.




Ward Connerly is author of "Creating Equal: My Fight Against Race Preferences" and chairman of the American Civil Rights Institute. Edward Blum is director of legal affairs at the American Civil Rights Institute (acri.org).


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