March 03, 2004,
As a regent of the University of California, I have seen firsthand the devastating effects that race preferences can have on young people. Contrary to what the proponents of "affirmative action" would lead you to believe, the issue of race preferences is not just about statistics and data, or clichés about "leveling the playing field" or providing "opportunities" for disadvantaged "minorities." Real lives are radically affected, and incalculable social and economic costs result when decisions are made about individuals based on the color of their skin or the origin of their ancestors.
In 1994, I immersed myself in the admissions process of the University of California. I met high-school students with bags under their eyes because they had spent all night studying for tests or writing essays to enhance their chances for admission to the UC campus of their choice. I met parents who were working two and three jobs and taking out second mortgages on their homes to ensure that their children would receive a quality college education. I read admissions applications that had taken weeks to prepare. I saw the tears on the face of a young girl with a 4.2 grade-point average and a 1480 SAT when she read the letter denying her admission to UC Berkeley. I saw the resentment of her parents when they read that same letter and reached the conclusion that the "diversity" objective mentioned in the letter was a code word for "affirmative action." When dreams of attending the college of one's choice are shattered, the effects are profound. I learned from those experiences that America will never solve its problem of race by discriminating against high-achieving Asian and white students to somehow improve college opportunities for lesser-achieving black and Hispanic students.
Based on what I experienced, in 1995 I convinced a majority of my colleagues on the Board of Regents to eliminate race preferences at UC. A year and a half later, that success was expanded throughout California when the voters passed the statewide ballot initiative Proposition 209 I chaired the ballot's campaign by a margin of 55 percent to 45 percent.
In 1998, we convinced the people of the state of Washington to take similar action and to approve Initiative 200 (I-200), which they did by a margin of 59 percent to 41 percent. I-200 mirrored Proposition 209. Subsequent to the passage of I-200, the governor of Florida ended preferences there by adopting "One Florida" an executive order intended to preempt the Florida Civil Rights Initiative, an initiative that we were circulating. "One Florida" has proven to be nearly the administrative equivalent of a statewide ballot initiative, although not constitutionally as significant.
From 1995 to the present, we have waged an effective campaign to educate the public about the differences between "affirmative action" and race preferences, urging clarity in distinguishing between the two. In one public-opinion poll after another, the American people have expressed their confirmation of our conviction that preferences in public education, public employment, and public contracting are morally wrong, unfair, and violate the constitutional command of equal treatment under the law for every American, as well as the principle that individual merit should be the basis for achievement in American society.
With this history and background, we were justifiably optimistic that the Supreme Court of the United States would render a favorable decision when it announced its intention to hear the cases involving Barbara Grutter and Jennifer Gratz and the University of Michigan early last year. A decision in favor of the plaintiffs would shift our nation's focus from the pursuit of skin-color "diversity" to respect for individual merit and the principle of equal treatment by the government regardless of race or ethnic background.
Our reason for optimism was all the more reasonable when placed in the context that the Supreme Court is often described as a "conservative" court and the decisions would be rendered during an era in which there is a conservative Republican president and Republicans control both houses of Congress. Conditions were ideal for the country to make a clean break with race preferences.
But, as we now know, our optimism was misplaced. On June 23, 2003, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the University of Michigan (UM) and allowed the continued use of race preferences. These horrible decisions by the Court will profoundly affect the lives of our children and grandchildren for at least the next 25 years.
The question for our generation is, what are we to do about these decisions? We can accept them without protest, wring our hands and complain, or actively seek to negate them wherever we can, reminding ourselves that by their actions the people of California and Washington and the governor of Florida have already exempted themselves from the Grutter/Gratz decisions.
For those who understand the human consequences of race preferences, the choice is clear: We must begin anew the campaign that was started with the passage of Proposition 209. The people must seize the initiative to erase the stain of racial discrimination; we cannot rely on the president, the Congress, or the Supreme Court to do it for us. Whether the victim of racial discrimination is a black person denied admission to "Ole Miss" because of skin color or a white person denied admission to the University of Michigan owing to race preferences, the injustice is no less.
On December 11, 2003, the Michigan Board of State Canvassers approved a petition that is now circulating among the people of Michigan for a statewide vote in November 2004. This "Michigan Civil Rights Initiative" (as was the case in Washington and Florida) is patterned after California's Proposition 209. If approved by the people of that state, race preferences will be prohibited in Michigan. On January 12, 2004, the campaign began to qualify MCRI for a vote of the people. Leading this effort is Jennifer Gratz, who has been hired as the executive director of the campaign.
Realizing what is at stake, the opponents of MCRI have enlisted support from Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, labor unions, Democratic candidates for president, and a host of others who are supplying financial assistance to prevent MCRI from reaching the ballot. Unfortunately, the Michigan Republican party has announced its opposition to MCRI, claiming that such a campaign will be "divisive."
What this all means is that, once again, if race preferences are to be terminated, the people will have to do so by a popular vote, and that they will receive no help from that part of the political establishment that would ordinarily be expected to participate in ending such preferences. They can also expect to face national opposition from the customary proponents of such preferences. Fortunately, public-opinion polls confirm that the people of Michigan are poised to do just that, as the most recent statewide poll reveals that, if the election were held today, MCRI would pass by a margin of 63 percent to 37 percent.
But, in order for the people of Michigan to get the chance to vote on this initiative, MCRI must obtain nearly 460,000 signatures to qualify for the November 2004 Ballot. Jennifer Gratz, Barbara Grutter, and others in Michigan will not be able to finance this campaign alone. They urgently need outside, financial help on the national level.
The year 2003 was marked by court decisions that were highly unpopular with political conservatives, chief among them being the University of Michigan cases. If a dollar were thrown in the kitty for every time a conservative complained about "activist" courts, we could finance the $2 million that will be needed for the campaign to enact MCRI. The Michigan Civil Rights Initiative provides an opportunity for the conservative movement to take action and not just to complain about judicial activism.
Based on the experiences in California and Washington State, a reasonable amount of the budget needed to gain passage of an initiative can be generated locally, but the bulk of the financing for opponents and proponents of preferences comes from out-of-state sources. The issue may be fought in one state at a time, but it is truly national in scope. That is why those of us who want to end preferences need to make the battle in Michigan our top priority in 2004.
Just think of what success could be obtained if thousands of supporters mobilized nationally and each sent $20 or $50. With every signature for a statewide ballot initiative typically costing about $2, a $20 contribution is the equivalent of purchasing ten signatures for the campaign. If you want to find out more about the MCRI, visit the website at www.MCRI2004.org. This campaign holds the promise of having the people of a state that gave us the term "Reagan Democrats" overturning the action of a court that told us "diversity" is an acceptable excuse to discriminate so long as the beneficiaries of that discrimination are of the right color.