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Putting Racism Back in the Classroom By: Garin K. Hovannisian
Daily Bruin | Monday, June 07, 2004

Last week, a group of lawless vigilantes trampled over state law and betrayed public opinion at the same time.

For me and you, this might be a hard act to pull off. But for the well-trained assemblymen of the state of California, it was business as usual. Last Wednesday, in a 45-30 vote, the state Assembly passed a bill to reinstate race as a consideration for university admissions.

Assembly Bill 2387 allows "the University of California and the California State University ... to consider culture, race, gender, ethnicity" and a number of other factors in their admissions processes.

As I read it, the bill is illegal. Proposition 209, a constitutional amendment ratified by California's public in 1996, explicitly states: "The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting."

But the officials in Sacramento are not dumb. Their deliberations were extensive and their methodology was efficient. It is for this reason that AB 2387 includes the phrase, "so long as no preference is given."

In short, the legislators want to consider race but not make preferences based on race. Convenient? Yes. Confusing? Surely. Impressively manipulative? Perhaps.

But all the elitist rationalizations for this bill are left defenseless when faced with the revealing and important question: How?

How is it possible to consider an applicant's race but not make a preference based on it? One cannot expect a human to remain uninfluenced when he considers an influential factor. For example, if one applicant is Armenian and the other is French, I, the subjective reviewer, will give preferential treatment to the Armenian.

Say, however, that admissions officers are superhuman. What then? If they were hypothetically able to consider race but not make racial preferences, then what's the point of considering race in the first place? There is no point. For example, if one applicant is Armenian and the other is French, I, the objective reviewer, will not care.

So why is the bill so important?

To put it simply, the bill is a devious and deliberate attempt to break the law and reinstate affirmative action in California.

To make this all the more obvious for the political detective, the assemblymen have exposed their motivations for passing the bill in the first place. Those who pretend the measure is about equality or justice ignore the fact that when the bill was first introduced in April, it did not contain the word gender. It dealt exclusively with the reintegration of racial issues into admission boards. From the beginning, the bill was about affirmative action.

Again, the mob at our Capitol is not foolish.

Preempting their inevitable exposure, many assemblymen have sought to form a legal defense, in spite of Prop. 209.

As the Daily Bruin reports: "Assemblyman Marco Firebaugh, D-South Gate, was the primary author of the bill. Ricardo Lara, communications director for Firebaugh, said the bill stems from a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court last June that upheld the right of the University of Michigan Law School to employ 'a narrowly tailored use of race in admissions decisions.'"

The court did not, nor should address whether affirmative action should be mandatory. The court's ruling was one of the state's rights. Within the confines of the Constitutional Equal Protection Clause, the individual states can choose whether to adopt or ignore affirmative action.

Michigan chose to adopt it; California chose to reject it (via Proposition 209). And precisely for the same reasons affirmative action exists in Michigan, it should not exist in California. The state has the right to choose. That is what the Michigan case found.

In her ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger, Justice O'Connor writes, "As the experience in Texas, Florida and California demonstrates, public universities have ample race-neutral means available to achieve objectives such as educational diversity, openness and broad participation. ... (States like California) cannot follow Michigan's model of adopting race-based admission policies when ample race-neutral alternatives remain available to respondents."

So the Supreme Court, far from endorsing race as a factor of admissions, actually rejected it in the case of California.

Diane Schachterle, the Director of Public Affairs for the American Civil Rights Coalition, agrees. In an e-mail, she told me, "Grutter v. Bollinger specifies that if race-neutral means are working, then race-based policies may NOT be used. Since Justice O'Connor singled out California as a shining example of the success of race-neutral policies one can conclude that California meets this legal test and is forbidden to consider race."

Much can be said about the righteousness of affirmative action. But the issue at hand is far different and far more important. It is an issue of law and public opinion.

Last week, our representatives gathered in their elite room where they overrode our desires, breached their sacred contract with the law, and misled and deceived California citizens. In the process, they insulted the opponents of affirmative action and crushed the legitimacy of its advocates.

The assemblymen who voted for this bill are, in the most literal sense, vigilantes.

Does anybody care?

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