Initiatives in three states would prohibit affirmative action in public realms
Tensions are running high in the latest affirmative-action battlegrounds. In Arizona, Nebraska, and Colorado, supporters of ballot initiatives that would ban "preferential treatment" are counting up petition signatures - and opponents are scrutinizing their validity - to see if there's enough support to bring the issue to voters in November.
The American Civil Rights Institute (ACRI), led by Ward Connerly, is pushing the initiatives, which would change state constitutions to prohibit preferences based on race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the public realms of employment, education, and contracting. Similar ballot measures have succeeded in only three states: California in 1996 and later in Washington and Michigan.
Proponents of affirmative action learned from those votes not to wait until the fall election to make their case to the public. So they've been mustering volunteers now to wage "decline to sign" campaigns.
The initiative fight is one area where race and politics intersect in this election cycle. Some backers of the initiative cite Barack Obama's victory in the Democratic primary as evidence that people of any color can succeed in today's society - though the candidate himself recently stated his opposition to such ballot initiatives. In Nebraska, a pro-initiative radio ad opens with a clip from an inflammatory speech by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, followed by a voice-over noting that "colorblind government" is a way to "reject the politics of race and hate."
The polarization sparked by these battles "makes it difficult for people to think about what's at stake in a more practical way," says Carol Swain, a law and political science professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. It "continues to politicize the discussion of issues that should be on the table ... given where we are demographically." Examples she'd like to see more dialogue about include immigration reform and class-based, rather than race-based, affirmative action, an idea she supports.
ACRI, a nonprofit in Sacramento, Calif., backed initiatives in five states this year. The efforts in Missouri and Oklahoma came to a halt without enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. In Colorado, the validity of signatures has been challenged in court - a scenario that appears likely in both Arizona and Nebraska after the signature deadlines, July 3 and 4 respectively.
"It's not only morally wrong, but ... often counterproductive for the question of someone's skin color or race to be a factor ... when the government interacts with an individual," says Mr. Connerly, founder and president of ACRI. A former member of the University of California Board of Regents, he championed passage of that state's 1996 ballot measure, and he also led the efforts in Washington State and Michigan.
Connerly acknowledges that there is still discrimination but says society has changed to the point that whites can no longer always be presumed to be the "oppressors." In some cities, whites feel discriminated against by majority-black governments, and in others, blacks feel shortchanged by Hispanic leaders. "Nobody has a monopoly on being able to discriminate," he says. Connerly sees the direct appeal to voters as the best hope for changing laws.
His opponents believe just as strongly that affirmative action is still an important tool to promote equal opportunity for minorities and women, as well as to reach goals such as diversity in higher education. When they explain to people that the initiatives would threaten scholarships and efforts to hire women and minority faculty, many decide not to sign the petitions, they say.
Still, once the matter is before voters in the privacy of the ballot booth, "if an overwhelmingly white electorate is given an opportunity ... to uphold white privilege, the majority are going to do it," says Donna Stern, coordinator of a Detroit-based group called BAMN: Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration, and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality by Any Means Necessary.
Opponents have accused Connerly's campaigns of hiring paid signature-gathering groups that show a pattern of violating rules and misleading voters. Some opponents have videotaped petition circulators to try to prove their claims. "Paid signature-gathering isn't inherently bad ... [but some] organizers don't feel accountable to the rules," says Kristina Wilfore, executive director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, a progressive group in Washington that helps document fraud and pushes for reforms. (Ballot initiatives are allowed in 24 states.)
Connerly and state initiative organizers deny such allegations. They fault their opponents for giving voters incorrect information - by saying, in Nebraska for instance, that the proposal would threaten breast-cancer screenings.
Despite activist "blockers," Connerly and state initiative organizers say they expect to turn in signatures in Arizona and Nebraska beyond the minimum needed to qualify. At press time, they were not ready to state how many they had gathered.
In Arizona, universities generally don't use race as a factor in admission. What's at stake are programs such as one to help Hispanic women improve their college graduation rate or another to support women studying engineering, says State Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D), chair of Protect Arizona's Freedom, a coalition against the initiative. Other programs that could be affected include state and local goals for getting bids from minority and woman-owned businesses.
The policies that would be subject to change vary state by state, but higher education is where the debate over affirmative action, or preferences, has played out most strongly in recent years. In 2003, the United States Supreme Court struck down a University of Michigan undergraduate admissions policy that assigned points to race, but it upheld the law school's more narrowly tailored policy. The law school considered race as one element in efforts to promote the educational value of diversity.
In 2006, the Connerly-backed initiative passed in Michigan with 58 percent of the vote, making the law there more restrictive than what the high court allowed nationwide. The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor revamped its admissions policies to promote diversity while complying with the law, says Lester Monts, senior vice provost for academic affairs.
This year's freshman class is projected to be about 10.5 percent African-American, Hispanic, and native American, down slightly from 10.9 percent last year. In 2003, these groups made up about 13 percent of undergraduates.
Mr. Monts says he's glad the declines are not as strong as what the University of California experienced after the change there in 1996. But, he says, educators in other states are right to believe their diversity efforts are threatened by such initiatives: "We've had to increase our admissions staff [and] our financial-aid budget. Other universities may not be in a position to do those kinds of things."
More Driver Drivel
One of the downsides of my "job" (I use the term loosely) providing your peephole/telescopic/microscopic view into the wonderful world of discrimination (not to mention my filter/sieve service, separating the chaff from the really bad chaff) is that I have to read so much offensive, militant nonsense from know-nothings like Shanta Driver, national chairpersonwoman of By Any Means Necessary (BAMN), the battering ram used by the Democrats to do the dirty work of supporting racial preferences, such as disrupting meetings and sending out threatening "blockers" to intimidate petition-signers.
She's still in Arizona (where we encountered her only last week, here), and still spouting angry, duplicitous nonsense. One saving grace of having to read her, however, is being reminded that she's so far around the bend that she doesn't realize how offensive she sounds to most people, such as when she unblushingly reveals her disdain for democracy and the blighted, racist Americas who struggle to make it work.
The head of a group opposing an initiative to end affirmative action and other preferential programs said she wants to block the measure from getting on the ballot in part because she fears a majority of Arizonans will vote for it.... Driver said putting this measure before Arizona voters, even in 2008, would be like asking Alabama residents in the 1950s to vote on equal rights for blacks.
I'm sure Arizonans will appreciate being compared to racist white Alabamians in 1950, but that comparison makes as much sense as describing a measure that would prohibit discrimination as discriminatory. Nor does Driver seem to recognize that her opposition to colorblind equality depends upon a definition of "civil rights" that is distorted beyond all recognition.
Shanta Driver, national chair of By Any Means Necessary, said it is improper to push the measure as a "civil rights" initiative. She said that term connotes something to help minorities
There is no control over what "connotes" what to Ms. Driver, but "civil rights" denotes the right to be free from discrimination based on race, ethnicity, etc. As if Driver's distorted connotions weren't enough, for some reason she thinks a supporter who admits that she didn't read the petition she signed strengthens her case.
"Civil rights applies to all people, regardless of their race or their sex," [director of the Arizona Civil Rights Initiative Max] McPhail said. "To give someone preference based on something like a characteristic like race goes against what civil rights really means."
But Pamela Brown, one of the people who signed the petition, said there is no question that the use of the words "civil rights" was designed to mislead. Brown, who is black, said she grew up in the 1950s and 1960s watching TV coverage of fire hoses being turned on civil rights protestors in the South. "When you say `civil rights' to a person of my era, that's what we go back to," she said.
McPhail said anyone who actually read the text of the initiative, which legally must be attached to the petition, would see that it bans preferential treatment. Brown, who signed the initiative, conceded that she did not look at the language.
Driver and her un-reading supporter, Brown, thus believe that discriminating against many Asians and a few whites to help blacks and Hispanics is what "civil rights" is all about. Well, that must be the case, since that's what Brown learned watching TV.
Britain: Leading Jewish state school is cleared in race bias case
A leading Jewish state school was cleared yesterday of racially discriminating against the son of a convert in a ruling that shores up the whole faith school system. JFS, formerly the Jewish Free School, refused a place to an 11-year-old boy whose mother had converted to the faith. His father took legal action on the ground that the school's admissions code breached race laws, by favouring children with Jewish-born mothers over religiously observant families who had converted. A High Court judge decided, however, that the school had not discriminated on racial grounds and said that Jewish status could not be determined by secular courts.
Mr Justice Mumby recognised that, if the case had succeeded, it would probably have rendered unlawful "the admission arrangements in a very large number of faith schools, of many denominations". He said that members of a religion did not necessarily have to practise that faith. Judaism is passed on through the maternal line, or through conversion. Religious state schools are allowed to use faith-based criteria to decide which children to admit.
The father of the boy, known as M, was seeking a judicial review because he said that the school in northwest London used ethnic rather than religious reasons for refusing his son a place. Children from two other families who consider themselves Jewish have also been turned away from the school, which achieves high results and is very oversubscribed.
One was the daughter of the school's head of English, Kate Lightman, whose husband David is an Orthodox Jew. She converted more than 20 years ago under Israel's Chief Rabbi, but her daughter was not deemed to be Jewish by the Office of the Chief Rabbi in Britain, which controls JFS's admissions.
Dinah Rose, QC, representing M, said that the school would accept a child of Jewish-born "committed atheists" but exclude others who are "Jewish by belief and practice" because of their mother's descent.
Rejecting the legal challenge, the judge said the admissions policy was "not materially different from that which gives preference in admission to a Muslim school to those who were born Muslim, or preference in admission to a Catholic school to those who have been baptised". He said such policies were a "proportionate and lawful means of achieving a legitimate end". The judge said the school had the right to give preference for those from a certain religion, even if they had fallen away from that faith. Russell Kett, chairman of governors at JFS, said: "The school abhors all forms of discrimination and welcomes the judge's express finding that JFS does not racially discriminate."
Simon Hochhauser, president of the United Synagogue, said: "We are pleased that JFS's admissions procedures and policies have been so fully endorsed. We acknowledge the judge's ruling that Jewish status can only be defined by Jewish law."
Philip Hunter, the chief schools adjudicator, ordered JFS last year to scrap admissions criteria designed to be used if it were ever undersubscribed.