- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Leading opponents of racial quotas have told the White House that anything less than full support in their Supreme Court fight against discriminatory preferences at tax-supported universities would be worse than no support.
Several of those pushing for a tougher stand in a key case involving the University of Michigan used the words "squishy" and "wishy-washy" to describe what they fear President Bush will submit to the court tomorrow.
"I cannot countenance any other possibility than for President Bush to say he opposes racial preferences," said University of California Regent Ward Connerly, the architect of Proposition 209, the 1995 voter initiative barring preferences in California in hiring, education and contracting.
"A squishy brief would be worse than no brief at all," said Roger Clegg, general counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity.
But yesterday, the president's chief spokesman said Mr. Bush wants to explain his position on the case in a manner that would not "offend half the population."
White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said the president was still discussing the pros and cons of the potentially explosive issue with aides and Justice Department officials. Mr. Bush appeared to be searching for a way to make that case without alienating minorities and Democrats.
"I don't think the president approaches this as an issue on which it would offend half the population," Mr. Fleischer said. "Because as much as there can be differences when it comes to racial issues in America, in the president's judgment there is so much more that unites us on racial issues than divides us. And that's the approach the president brings to this issue."
Like the Center for Individual Rights which is supporting white students who were refused admission to Michigan and others who echo Mr. Clegg, Mr. Connerly says he rebuffed offers from the office of White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales to have President Bush file a neutral brief backing "diversity," but stopping short of taking sides on the Michigan case.
"Part of me fails to understand even how this should be a question over which one agonizes. It's so clear to me that discrimination is wrong, morally wrong, and the president ought to be guided by the clarity of that thought," he said in an interview from his Sacramento office, discussing how he made that case in a letter to White House political adviser Karl Rove.
"It seems the Bush political shop, aided by Judge Gonzales's office, doesn't want to go that far," said Edward Blum, legal director of the Civil Rights Institute, in an interview that contradicted some White House aides and predicted a brief that skirts racial issues. "It would be a shame if they ignored so many movement conservatives and wrote something wishy-washy."
Tomorrow is the deadline for "friend of the court" filings that back opponents of Michigan's 150-point admissions system, which grants 12 points for a perfect SAT score and 20 points for applying as a black, American Indian or Hispanic student. In the 2000 Census, 69 percent of the population identified as white, 12 percent as Hispanic, 12 percent as black and 4 percent as Asian.
Supporters of affirmative action have until Feb. 18 to file their briefs in a case to be heard in the spring.
The Washington Times reported last week that the Justice Department sent to the White House for approval the kind of brief conservatives were demanding and that advisers were suggesting the president decline to file it and stay out of the case. A White House source said Monday that Mr. Bush is expected to express formal support for merit-based admissions, a position he has long advocated.
But those lobbying the White House behind the scenes to oppose any use of racial factors said in interviews that they fear compromise is in the wind.
"A brief that said the University of Michigan should lose but that in principle, diversity justifies the practice of taking race into account, regarding who gets in and who doesn't get in that would be a disaster as far as conservatives are concerned," Mr. Clegg said.
He said he made that clear to aides in the White House Counsel's Office who rejected his request to discuss the issue with Mr. Gonzales.


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