HOW MIGHT class-based affirmative action work in practice? How is "class" to be defined? Should only the poor benefit, or lower-middle-income Americans as well? Should there be a sliding scale of benefits? In what contexts should class preferences apply? University admissions only? Employment as well? Public contracting? Should class preferences apply to people of all ages? To promotions as well as hiring? How would the idea be implemented? Would preferences be voluntary or mandatory? How substantial should the preferences be? Would class preferences entirely displace racial and gender preferences?
Some blanch at the weight of these questions. "The difficulties of measuring disadvantage seem insurmountable," says the Citizens' Commission on Civil Rights.1"There isn't one simple or generally accepted way to identify or determine 'need,'" says the National Women's Law Center (NWLC).2 The columnist Michael Kinsley asks, "Does Clarence Thomas, the sharecropper's kid, get more or fewer preference points than the unemployed miner's son from Appalachia?"3 The American Lawyer's Stuart Taylor Jr., likewise wonders, "How many points for attending an all-black inner city school vs. a second-rate white suburban school? How many for family income under $10,000? Under $20,000? For a mediocre small-town school? A deserting father? An alcoholic mother?"4
Most proponents of class-based affirmative action have failed to explain their idea with any degree of specificity.5 The questions of implementation are indeed serious and difficult, but they are not impossible to answer. At the university level, admis-