- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 15, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 15 (UPI) — President George W. Bush on Wednesday called the University of Michigan's admissions policies that gave preferences to minorities "fundamentally flawed" and said the administration would file a brief opposing it with the U.S. Supreme Court.

"At their core, the Michigan policies amount to a quota system that unfairly rewards or penalizes prospective students, based solely on their race," Bush said at a hastily called news conference, lending his weight to the politically sensitive debate over race and affirmative action.

Bush, delivering his remarks from the Roosevelt Room, said the administration would file an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court. Bush said the university's practice of awarding students extra admissions points based solely on their race and establishing numerical targets for incoming minority students is unconstitutional.

"Quota systems that use race to include or exclude people from higher education and the opportunities it offers are divisive, unfair and impossible to square with the Constitution," Bush said.

Bush said the nation must be vigilant in responding to prejudice but must not use means that create another wrong, and thus perpetuate the divisions.

The White House said earlier in the day that Bush supported what he called "affirmative access."

"Affirmative access is the president's way of recognizing that America is a stronger country because of our rich diversity, and he seeks ways to encourage diversity and to do so in a way that does not rely on either quotas or racial preferences," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.

In the Michigan case, three white students complained that although they were academically qualified, they were denied admission to the school because of racial preferences.

In undergraduate admissions, black, Hispanic and American Indian applicants are given 20 points on the 150-point qualification scale because of their race.

The university's law school also uses race in considering applicants for admission.

The move comes at a touchy time for the president. Last month the Republicans' Senate majority leader, Trent Lott, resigned from the post after having made racially insensitive remarks at a party, sparking a firestorm of condemnation from Republicans and Democrats alike.

Conservative Republicans, politically important for Bush, are generally opposed to affirmative action programs.

"This is a watershed moment. They will have a choice," Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota said earlier Wednesday. "They have to decide whether they're for civil rights and diversity or not. And I believe this watershed moment is one that will say a lot about the true intent of the administration and our Republican colleagues."

Daschle is the leader of the Democrats in the Senate.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., spoke on behalf of the Congressional Black Caucus and condemned the White House stance.

"Do we Americans truly believe that the racial integration of public universities is no longer a sufficiently compelling (part of) the public interest (to continue affirmative action programs)?" he asked reporters. "The playing field is far from level."

The White House was not required to file a brief or act in any way on the Michigan case, but the White House said Bush considered it too important a subject to avoid.

"America's long experience with the segregation we have put behind us and the racial discrimination we still struggle to overcome requires a special effort to make real the promise of equal opportunity for all," Bush said. "My administration will continue to actively promote diversity and opportunity in every way that the law permits," Bush said.

Bush, while governor of Texas, instituted an "affirmative access" program in which the top 10 percent of students in all high schools were automatically eligible for admission to Texas state colleges and universities.

Many media analysts at the Supreme Court expected the administration to try to stake out some middle ground, attacking the practice of giving minorities advantages in the applications process but offering other means to make sure diversity is maintained.

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