- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 11, 2003

Former Education Secretary William J. Bennett yesterday urged President Bush to file a Supreme Court brief supporting white students who claim the University of Michigan affirmative-action plan blocked their admission.
"By maintaining separate systems of admission dependent on skin color we are turning a moral policy of color-blindness and equality into a perverse system of numeric equality, converting the theme of racial unconsciousness into a policy of racial consciousness," Mr. Bennett said in a broadside that called on fellow Republicans to craft a new civil-rights agenda.
Contrary to those who say Republicans were smeared by the racist charges that led its leaders to replace Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott with Tennessee Sen. Bill Frist as Senate leader, Mr. Bennett said replacing Mr. Lott was a "stand of principle" that should be followed by more bold steps.
"We should not now be cowed by those who challenge Senator Frist and the GOP majority to embrace a race-based agenda that would turn back the clock on civil rights," said Mr. Bennett, co-director of the Empower America organization.
He urged Mr. Bush "and as many members of the House and Senate as possible" to file an amicus curiae, or friend of the court, brief in the Michigan cases, Grutter vs. Bollinger and Gratz vs. Bollinger. The filing deadline for that is Thursday.
After The Washington Times reported Thursday that Mr. Bush was considering such a memo prepared by Solicitor General Theodore Olson, a White House spokesman said the draft brief was under review and the president would "watch and wait" during the week.
The White House yesterday had no immediate comment on Mr. Bennett's proposals.
The Gratz case challenged admission policies at the university's largest undergraduate school, the College of Literature, Science & the Arts, for allowing a 20-point bonus on a 150-point scale when considering applicants who are Indian, black or Hispanic. The Grutter case questions less-specific uses of race in law-school admissions.
"Such policies violate every principle of equality we have worked for from [Justice] Harlan's famous dissent to [Martin Luther] King's march on Washington," Mr. Bennett said, invoking Justice John Marshall Harlan's opposition to the Supreme Court's 1896 Plessy vs. Ferguson decision upholding the constitutionality of "separate but equal" segregation on interstate trains.
"If we as a nation truly want to get beyond the idea that skin color is less important than merit and character we need simply to end race-based policies against everyone. Admissions and jobs should not be set aside for whites, nor should they be set aside for blacks," Mr. Bennett said.
Mr. Bennett's memo also recommended expanding welfare reform and extending school-choice voucher systems by using the District's school system as a model.
Separately yesterday, the leaders of 34 higher education associations sent Mr. Bush a letter asking them to take their side, on behalf of the university's affirmative action programs.
"The freedom to pursue diversity is especially worthy of protection because diversity benefits all students," wrote David Ward, president of the American Council on Education, who wrote for his own 1,800 members and the other associations.
"American higher education is considered the best in the world because of America's long-standing tradition of government deference to educators' judgment on academic questions, such as what combination of students yields the best educational outcomes," the letter said.
Mr. Bush has until Feb. 18 to file, if he chooses to support Michigan's program.

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