Affirmative Action May Still Be Saved
Clarence Page Copyright Tribune Media Services Inc., St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
Life is filled with great debates. For example: Is Certs a "breath mint" or a "candy mint"? Is Miller Lite "less filling" or does it "taste great"? So it is with most of the current debate about affirmative action.
We have little agreement over what good or harm it does largely because there is so little agreement over what it is.
Is it an anti-poverty program? Or is it an equal-opportunity program? Is it a diversity program to create enrollments and payrolls that "look like America" and produce more role models?
Or is it a reparations program, suitable only to native-born blacks and other groups who can claim specific historical grievances? Or is it a remedial program, intended to make up for specific discrimination at specific com)act, affirmative action can be any or all of these things, plus several more I probably have left out.
That's why so many of those who argue the topic talk past each other. They simply are not talking about the same thing. That's why polls regarding affirmative action show that a clear majority either opposes it or supports it, depending on how the question is phrased. That's why reports of affirmative action's death are, in Mark Twain's word, exaggerated.
The Supreme Court's recent Adarand Constructors vs. Pena decision does what every other Supreme Court decision on affirmative action has done: It weakens affirmative action and prunes away its excesses, while defending the formidable mission that affirmative action is trying to accomplish.
Most of the court refused to go along with Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas' extreme view that the government never has an interest in imposing racial preferences.
After all, one person's "preferences" are another person's efforts to "include" and to diversify beyond one group that always has enjoyed special preferences in the past.
For example, a blond, blue-eyed Washington lawyer I know jokes that he "got into Harvard under an affirmative action program for Nebraskans." Yes, diversity has its virtues - for white men, too.
Still, a 5-4 majority of the Supreme Court did agree that such preferences for women or minorities must be "narrowly tailored," limited to a specific time period and imposed only as a last resort. …