- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 14, 2003

President Bush is planning to side with white students against the University of Michigan in a landmark affirmative-action case before the Supreme Court this week, said a source close to White House deliberations.
Although White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said Mr. Bush is still "listening to both sides of the case," another source said the president is unlikely to abandon his long-standing opposition to racial preferences at public universities.
Rather than remain silent on the case, which the White House had been considering last week, the president is now expected to express his support for merit-based admissions in a brief that can be filed with the Supreme Court no later than Thursday.
"The president has been consistent in his beliefs on this for a very long time," the source said.
The expected decision to wade into the racially charged case comes amid rising calls from Democrats and Republicans alike for the White House to take a stand.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle yesterday criticized Mr. Bush for staying mum so far. Signaling an eagerness for another racial battle with Republicans, Mr. Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, effectively dared the president to oppose the university's policy of giving black and Hispanic applicants 20 points over whites on a 150-point admissions scale.
The "question of affirmative educational opportunity is now being asked in the U.S. Supreme Court," Mr. Daschle said on the Senate floor. "The administration has chosen to remain silent."
Mr. Bush, whose Justice Department sides with the white students in a brief already forwarded to the White House, opposed racial preferences when he was governor of Texas. Instead, he instituted a policy of "affirmative access," which guaranteed college admission to students ranked in the top 10 percent of their classes academically regardless of race.
And yet, with two days left before the deadline for the administration to weigh in on the Supreme Court case, the president believes the issue requires "a lot of quiet deliberation and thought," Mr. Fleischer said.
"Very often in the past, issues that are attached to race and admissions policies are accompanied by a lot of shouting and yelling," Mr. Fleischer said. "The president would prefer to approach this matter in as thoughtful a way as is possible, recognizing how important these issues are."
The case is a political hot potato for the Republican Party, which is still smarting after a racial flap that toppled Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi from his post as Senate leader last month.
Mr. Lott, whose remarks at Sen. Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party were widely criticized as nostalgic for the era of segregation, was replaced by Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee, who yesterday was accused by Mr. Daschle of complicity in the White House's silence.
"Yesterday, the Republican leader in the Senate did not ask them to break that silence or indicate a desire to break his," Mr. Daschle said.
Mr. Frist was asked about the issue on "Fox News Sunday," and he answered "yes" when asked whether the White House should get involved in the Michigan case.
"I think that it should," Mr. Frist said. "I think that debate is one that is probably worth having."
He added: "In the minds of I'd say even most people today, strict racial quotas mean that you're going to be discriminating against the party you did not discriminate in the past, trying to overcompensate."
Mr. Frist suggested that the Lott debacle should not discourage Republicans from wading into the affirmative-action debate.
"You know, we've been through a very difficult time in the last six weeks, difficult in the sense that issues have arisen unexpectedly," Mr. Frist said. "I'm glad they had arisen broadly." He added: "I think you're going to see a very positive dialogue on race, on racial issues, in all sorts of capacities that none of us would have predicted" recently.
Mr. Frist said he will "fight hard" for a racial dialogue that is less politically charged than in the past. But he added that the Republican Party is "more in sync with the African-American population today."
"The Democratic Party takes African-Americans for granted," he said. "And I'll guarantee the Republicans don't."
It is still possible that Mr. Bush could change his mind and decide not to weigh in. Yesterday, Mr. Fleischer remained noncommittal on the president's intentions.
"I'm not prepared to say if he's leaning one way or another, because it remains under review," he said. "The president and his staff have been meeting with officials of the Department of Justice talking about the case, listening to both sides of the case." He added that Mr. Bush could issue "any number of decisions, or no decision."
The White House is mindful of the political ramifications of the case. While liberals are expected to sharply criticize the president if he sides with the white students, conservatives are expected to be deeply disappointed if he does not.
"Matters dealing with whether or not an amicus curiae or a friend of the court brief would be filed are typically handled in most cases by Justice Department officials," Mr. Fleischer said. "For something that has this level of importance, it has risen to the president's attention."
He added: "This case is a particularly important case because it could potentially lead to a definition across the nation about what standards are allowable in terms of society dealing with questions about admissions and race."
Even as Mr. Fleischer remained noncommittal, he reiterated the policy that is expected to be at the heart of Mr. Bush's brief this week. He said the president favors "giving opportunities to people from a variety of backgrounds, while also giving opportunities in a manner for one and for all."
"And so the president, having been governor of a state that was so ethnically diverse as Texas, I think is well-versed in many of the sensitivities, the ups and the downs and the ins and the outs to these issues," he added. "They are all inherently very complicated parts of our social formula and our social fabric in the United States."


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