Jewish World Review August 9, 2001 /20 Menachem-Av, 5761

Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez
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W's 'Read My Lips' -- IN addition to being morally repugnant, racial quotas and preferences are opposed by large majorities of Americans, as every public poll ever taken on the issue confirms. So why is the Bush Administration toying with defending one of the most egregious racial preferences ever adopted? A pending Supreme Court case, Adarand v. Mineta, forces the new administration to take sides in the quota wars. And indications are that the Bush Justice Department is about to come down on the wrong side -- in favor of federal programs that penalize some people, while rewarding others, solely on the basis of their skin color.

The case itself goes back to the first term of the Clinton administration. In 1995, the Supreme Court ruled that a Department of Transportation contracting program that gave preferential treatment to minority-owned companies might run afoul of the Constitution's guarantee of equal protection of the laws. In order to pass Constitutional muster, the Court said programs would have to prove that they were narrowly tailored to resolve actual racial or ethnic discrimination. The Court said it wasn't enough to prove general, societal discrimination against minorities.

At the time, most people believed that the case would be the death knell for racial preferences in federal contracting, since such programs rarely, if ever, were based on evidence of actual discrimination in government contracting. Instead, they were simply a special form of racial patronage, ensuring that a certain percentage of government contracts got thrown to minority contractors, many of whom became wealthy as a result.

But the Clinton administration chose basically to ignore the ruling and made only the most cosmetic changes in the program. Now the case is back before the Supreme Court for the third time. It would be an easy matter for the new administration to change course over its predecessor. The Clinton administration changed position in filings before the Supreme Court five times in its first 15 months in office. And the Bush administration has shown no hesitance in reversing Clinton policies on other matters, including the environment.

What's more, doing so would live up to the campaign promises of President Bush and the policy statements of Attorney General John Ashcroft. Candidate Bush consistently said he opposed racial quotas and preferences, while Ashcroft declared that when he was in the U.S. Senate, such programs were "objectionable as a matter of public policy." So why is the Bush administration suddenly about to defend the indefensible?

Maybe someone in the Bush White House now thinks defending racial preferences is good politics. If so, they're wrong. This doesn't make the president look compassionate. It makes him look unprincipled. And what will he get in return? Absolutely nothing.

Not a single black or Hispanic voter who would not otherwise do so will vote for President Bush in 2004 because he continues the bankrupt policy of awarding federal contracts on the basis of skin color. These programs don't even affect ordinary blacks and Hispanics, who have no direct stake in perpetuating them.

On the other hand, those Americans who believe passionately in color-blind equal opportunity will be devastated if the president breaks faith on a program as venal as this one. For years, opposition to racial quotas and preferences was a defining issue that separated the Republican from the Democrat Party. More importantly, it was one of those issues on which more Americans agreed with the Republican than Democrat position, especially middle-income voters. Even Bill Clinton understood this, which is why he talked so much about "mending affirmative action" -- though his policies simply perpetuated race-based preferences.

President Bush stands to lose more votes than he gains if he comes down on the side of racial preferences. And he'll demoralize the very people who helped put him where he is today. A word of advice to the president: Just do the right thing, oppose racial preferences. It also happens to be good politics.

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate