Skip to comments.Bush Decision on University Criticized
Posted on 01/17/2003 2:05:34 PM PST by GeneD
Democrats, looking to capitalize on President Bush's decision to oppose the University of Michigan's affirmation action program, began a campaign Friday to make civil rights and equal education opportunities a major 2004 election issue.
"Civil rights has always been the great unfinished business of America," Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy told a Capitol Hill Democratic forum.
Democrats have been criticizing the GOP on civil rights issues since December, when Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi started an uproar with remarks praising the pro-segregation 1948 presidential campaign of Strom Thurmond. Then the Bush administration argued to the Supreme Court on Thursday against policies that give minorities an admissions advantage at the University of Michigan and its law school.
"Giving students 20 points on the basis of the color of their skin and only 12 points, for example, on having a perfect SAT score, is the incorrect way to achieve the goal of diversity," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Friday.
Democrats say they plan to repeatedly confront Republicans with Bush's decision. On Friday, Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota requested a Senate resolution supporting the university in the Supreme Court case.
Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, top Armed Services Committee Democrat, said he also was preparing a motion saying the Senate believes that there should be diversity at the nation's military academies.
Republicans should get behind these efforts, Daschle said. "Nothing would provide a clearer opportunity to show a commitment to diversity in education and a commitment that is more than just rhetoric," Daschle said.
However, Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, the Senate's third-ranked Republican, objected to Daschle's motion, and Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla., said Republicans were readying a resolution in support of the president.
"What the administration has done ... is try to focus on trying to provide opportunities for all without putting forward discriminatory impediments to people simply because of their gender, their ethnic background or their race," Santorum said.
Bush's decision to oppose Michigan's admission policies was the Democrats' major focus at the Friday morning forum.
"Look at what we've had to take in just a few weeks," District of Columbia Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton said. "First the Trent Lott controversy, then the resubmission of Judge Charles Pickering and Judge Priscilla Owen and other judges who could send chills through civil rights throughout the country, followed finally by the president's statement opposing the civil rights position in the University of Michigan affirmative action case. That's a lot of negative racial response all at one time."
Some pointed to Bush's own admission to Yale as a student.
"The policy that won the president admission to college was a preference for legacies and wealth, a preference that has disproportionately helped whites, yet today he opposes allowing universities to consider race as a factor, one factor, in making admissions decisions," said Rep. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., president of the House Democratic Caucus.
Other critics accused him of starting a quota system himself in Texas.
The Texas plan, which Bush championed as governor, offers public university admission to the top 10 percent of graduates from each high school. That assured a stream of minority applicants, because many Texas high schools are largely black or Hispanic. That system is also used in Florida, where Bush's younger brother Jeb is governor, and in California.
"That particular type of solution -- which is inadequate in many ways, it does not touch graduate schools, it really requires for its effectiveness an underlying segregated system of high schools -- ironically it is also probably closest to a quota in the way it is constructed," said Lee Bollinger, former University of Michigan president and current president of Columbia University.
"Mark my words, there are already people at the Federalist Society and elsewhere writing the briefs to attack the 10 percent plan as well," Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. said.
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