Lott Fallout Has Implications for Higher Education: Affirmative Action Discussions May Influence Supreme Court's Review of Michigan Case. (Washington Update)

Article excerpt

The uproar over remarks by Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., and his ensuing resignation as Senate majority leader is beginning to affect another high-profile race issue--the Supreme Court's review of the University of Michigan affirmative action case.

The court has agreed to review the university's policy to promote diversity in admissions. But some say Lott's remarks make it tougher for the Bush administration to take a stand in that case for fear of alienating minority voters at a time when the GOP is under criticism.

The Lott flap "shows that politicians should not be playing racial politics," says Chat Levey, director of legal and public affairs for the Center for Individual Rights in Washington, D.C., and an attorney for plaintiffs seeking to overturn the admissions policy.

The Bush administration was expected to join conservatives in seeking to overturn the program, but Levey told Black Issues he is now unsure of the administration's position. In fact, when apologizing for his remarks on Black Entertainment Television, Lott also endorsed affirmative action.

Supporters of the Michigan admissions policy were quick to pounce on Lott's comments in making their case. Lott's statement is "a welcome voice of support," says Shirley Wilcher, executive director of Americans for a Fair Chance, a pro-affirmative action organization.

"As a result of Sen. Lott's disclosure, we hope more members of the GOP and the administration will join us in promoting equal opportunity through affirmative action."

The government has until mid-January to file a brief if it plans to oppose the Michigan plan.

"It's unlikely the administration would support the (affirmative action) policy," Levey says. But even though some administration leaders want to file a strong brief against the program, it is possible that the Bush White House will file a more general brief or file nothing at all.

The university's admissions policy goes "over the top" in promoting diversity by granting undue benefits to applicants of color, Levey says. In effect, he argues, a student of color with a B average would have the same chance of admission as a White student with an A average. …