Jewish World Review July 29, 2002 / 20 Menachem-Av, 5762

Paul Greenberg

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Consumer Reports

Affirmative Action's latest victim: A black judge | Here's another example of the problem -- well, one of the problems -- with what has happened to Affirmative Action, which used to be a respectable term.

It used to mean just casting the net wide enough to make sure all those eligible for some consideration were indeed considered -- whether for a job, a political appointment, or a place in medical school.

Unfortunately, Affirmative Action is now little more than a euphemism for the use of quotas, though they often go under the cover of "goals" or "diversity" or some other verbal disguise. One result of all this doublespeak is that almost anyone black (or female, or Hispanic) gets tagged a quota kid, or a token appointment. No matter how great their merit or promise or deserts.

The latest example has been the deplorable campaign waged against Lavenski Smith's appointment to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. To quote Kevin Freking's story in last Sunday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette:

"To (his) supporters, the 43-year-old's ascent is a testament to what can happen when you're bright, work hard, and treat others with respect. To critics, it is a story of just how far you can go in life when you are the beneficiary of affirmative action. "

One of the most mean-spirited statements in opposition to Judge Smith's elevation to the appellate bunch came from another black judge here in Arkansas, Wendell Griffen: "I do not want to be associated to the slightest favorable degree with a campaign to promote someone for this historic appointment whose background and inexperience would be a reason for outright protest by our society if he were white."

Actually, Lavenski Smith's record is impressive: He's had to deal with a number of complex legal questions on his brief but busy legal career. To cite a few examples: the Resolution Trust Corporation's clean-up of the mess left when savings-and-loans were falling like dominoes back in the 1980s; telecom deregulation legislation; and public utility regulation here in Arkansas. He has served not just on the state's Supreme Court but still serves on its Public Services Commission.

Yet the man is accused of lacking experience -- as if experience were a matter of years rather than, well, experience. Vince Smith has actually packed a lot of experience in his 15 years in the law, which can happen with the talented and determined. And yet he never seems driven. Maybe it's his roots in faith, roots he keeps well tended.

Yes, there are a lot of lawyers who have been practicing much longer than Lavenski Smith, Esq., but it's always useful to remember that there's a difference between, say, 20 years of experience and the same year's experience 20 times.

Lavenski Smith is one of those individuals who has grown by his trials -- and not just trials in the legal sense. That much is clear to anyone who's ever talked with the man for more than a few minutes -- or it should be clear if they can sense the unmistakable air of someone whose life exemplifies a quiet but constantly active faith.

One suspects that Vince Smith's real sin isn't his meteoric rise in the law or his spiritual gift, both of which have been known to offend lesser talents, but his guilt by association with Republicans -- a long suspect breed in these latitudes. But since he's black, his critics have been given a prejudice they can use against him. They can fasten on his color to claim his appointment was race-based. Just as Affirmative Action is.

This is a familiar sneer by now, thanks to the stigma that the current system of racial quotas places on those it is ostensibly designed to help. Which is another reason why Affirmative Action needs to go the way of Jim Crow.

Lavenski Smith's case is only the latest example of the injustice that all systems of racial discrimination foster, even those that were supposed to counteract it.

Despite the slurs he's been subjected to, Judge Smith is well qualified by education, experience and judicial temperament for an appellate appointment, as he is about to demonstrate now that his appointment has been confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Congratulations. And you go, judge.

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