- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 22, 2003

Politicians are always tempted to wait for an event to happen before thinking about how to react — why borrow trouble, after all. But the Bush administration will be making a big mistake if it doesn’t get its ducks in a row now for the Supreme Court’s affirmative-action decision, which will come down this week.

The central issue to be decided in the pair of University of Michigan admissions cases currently under review at the high court is whether achieving “diversity” in a college setting is so compellingly important that using racial and ethnic preferences in the admissions process to achieve that goal is justified. The case attracted a record number of friend-of-the-court briefs from interested parties, but the Big Kahuna brief was submitted by the Bush administration.

What’s more, the day it was filed the president himself went before the nation in a live broadcast from the Roosevelt Room of the White House to explain why he was urging the court to rule that Michigan’s policies are unlawful. His position in the case drew an immediate salvo from the leading Democrat presidential contenders, but those criticisms will look gentle compared to what you will hear if Michigan ultimately loses.

So, if the Supreme Court follows the administration’s advice and strikes down the UM admissions policies, the White House better brace itself for an onslaught of hysterical paroxysms from the Democrats, their allies in the higher education bureaucracies, and, it goes without saying, the “civil rights” advocacy groups.

The reaction of the latter groups, in particular, isn’t going to be pretty. In fact, if the past is prologue, the rhetoric of the hard-charging race-demagogues to a loss in the UM cases could be out-and-out dangerous.

Don’t scoff. After all, it was only seven years ago that eight people gruesomely died in Freddy’s Fashion Mart in Harlem after Al Sharpton demanded that the Jewish owner — a “white interloper,” Rev. Al called him — be forced out. God willing, nothing remotely like this will take place. And surely it helps that universities are currently on summer break. But no one should dismiss out-of-hand the real possibility of angry marches and demonstrations that have the potential of turning violent.

The establishment press will chime in with stories and editorials about how the ourt has “turned back the clock on civil rights” and turned our institutions of higher learning into lily-white enclaves. It is also quite possible that congressional Democrats will immediately propose legislation attempting to gut any decision the justices offer that favors colorblind legal precepts in university admissions. (If a justice retires, this issue will be front and center at the new nominee’s confirmation hearings.)

Sadly, judging from their squishiness over the last few years, it’s a fair wager that Republicans, especially in the House and Senate, may head for the high grass rather than defend the principle of nondiscrimination. So the job of defending the decision of the high court will fall to the president.

The president should not shirk that opportunity — he should welcome it. While the Democrats, media and civil rights establishment are assailing Mr. Bush’s positions in the UM cases, Mr. Bush can score his own points by contrasting his equal opportunity vision of civil rights with those of his pro-preference opponents.

This will take some forethought on his part because of the president’s desire to expand the GOP’s reach into minority communities, especially Hispanics, and so he needs to start honing that message now. For starters, the president’s should remind the nation after the decision is handed own that eliminating racial preferences in college admissions means the nation is that much closer to ending what he has called the “soft bigotry of low expectations” that cast a shadow over all minority students.

If the administration unapologetically champions principled and colorblind public policies, that won’t negate the GOP’s efforts to broaden the party’s appeal to minorities. Poll after poll shows that racial preferences are overwhelmingly unpopular with all Americans, of all ethnicities. But hesitation will be fatal, as will obfuscation, waffling, and pandering on racial preferences. The president’s opponents will always be able to out-quota him.

Either the preference apologists will argue that the court’s decision leaves the door open to uses of race that it does not (as, indeed, they have been doing during the 25 years since the court’s last decision in this area), or — if the court shuts the door tightly enough against the use of race — they will assert that the decision “turns back the clock” on civil rights, and has no more legitimacy than a Jim Crow law.

Either way, those opposing preferences need to counter that spin immediately. No, the door does not remain open to discriminate, and, no, that is not a bad thing: The end of universities’ systematic and institutionalized discrimination is, to the contrary, a welcome event for all Americans.

The White House must stand up and support the court’s decision — which, after all, the administration asked for, and thus implicitly reassured the court that, if it stuck out its institutional neck by doing the right thing, it would not be left hanging. The Justice and Education Departments need to issue their own, authoritative interpretations of the court’s ruling quickly and promise they will monitor and “work with” universities to ensure those decisions are followed.

Regardless of the scope of the final ruling against racial and ethnic preferences in university admissions, every left-leaning group in the country will demonize the president. He should stand up and immediately fight toe-to-toe with them. He’ll win and so will the country.

Roger Clegg is general counsel at the Center for Equal Opportunity in Sterling, Va.

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