Merit-Based College Admissions Earn Scorn of Justice Nominee: Lee Backs Challenge to `Discrimination'

By Roman, Nancy E. | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 13, 1997 | Go to article overview
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Merit-Based College Admissions Earn Scorn of Justice Nominee: Lee Backs Challenge to `Discrimination'


Roman, Nancy E., The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Bill Lann Lee believes the University of California decision to use grades and test scores to determine who gains admission violates the Constitution - if it means too few women and minorities are admitted.

As counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Mr. Lee supports a court challenge arguing that graduate and professional schools in California violated federal law when they began admitting between 50 and 75 percent of the students based on merit.

The law "has resulted in and will further result in both discriminatory treatment of and a disparate impact on minority and women applicants to graduate programs," reads a 13-page complaint to the federal Department of Education. "UC has thus violated its obligation . . . not to discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity or gender."

Mr. Lee's embattled nomination to head the civil rights office of the Justice Department goes to a vote today in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Congressional Democrats and civil rights activists have come to the defense of the Chinese-American, saying to kill the nomination would be racist.

"To reject Bill is a hate crime," the Rev. Jesse Jackson said Tuesday.

Republicans on the Judiciary Committee oppose the nomination because Mr. Lee supports race- and sex-preference programs. At least two committee critics, Sen. John Ashcroft of Missouri and Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, say the nomination is doomed.

While Mr. Lee did not write the complaint to the Department of Education filed in March, he said during his confirmation hearing before the Judiciary Committee last month that he embraced its contents.

The California law took effect this fall. If the Legal Defense Fund prevails, it would be more difficult for Chinese students to be admitted to the University of California. Chinese students are among those with the highest grades and test results and are adversely affected when the merit system is abandoned for one of preferences.

Mr. Ashcroft and Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican who will filibuster Mr. Lee's nomination if it reaches the Senate floor, both say they will fight to block any nominee who shares Mr. Lee's views.

"This is not about race or gender and certainly not about the race or gender of Bill Lann Lee," Mr. McConnell said. "It is about legal philosophy."

The nominee has the support of the Judiciary Committee's eight Democrats and possibly one Republican, Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. Supporters have been looking at Sens. Spencer Abraham of Michigan, Mike DeWine of Ohio or Fred Thompson of Tennessee for the second Republican vote needed to send the nomination to the Senate with or without a positive recommendation.

Mr. Lee believes efforts to ban preferential treatment of women and minorities are unconstitutional.

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Merit-Based College Admissions Earn Scorn of Justice Nominee: Lee Backs Challenge to `Discrimination'
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