Notes on the Atrocities
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Wednesday, January 15, 2003  

Race, States' Rights, and the Politicization of the Judiciary

Surprise, the President is against "quotas". He made a speech this afternoon (and submitted a brief?), coming out against Michigan's policy that allows race to be considered for college admittance. While it's a major story, his view isn't particularly revolutionary. It hit all the usual notes:

"I strongly support diversity of all kinds, including racial diversity, in higher education, but the method used by the University of Michigan to achieve this important goal is fundamentally flawed. At their core, the Michigan policies amount to a quota system that unfairly rewards or penalizes prospective students based solely on their race."

What's interesting to me isn't his position particularly (in fact, had he gone the other way, that wouldn't have surprised, either). Rather, it's that he chose to issue this public statement, which is obviously intended to influence the judges. According to the Washington Post article about the announcement, it was specifically aimed at giving the swing vote, Justice O'Connor, cover when she votes.

Three thoughts on this. First, by making the announcement public, Bush makes it his own political issue. Selecting the "anti-quota" argument lines up with the wink-wink nod-nod language of the Southern Strategy. Looking at two constituencies--Hispanics and segregationist southerners--Bush decided there was political advantage in staking out territory. Time will tell.

He also signaled the Supremes about which way he wanted this thing to go, which politicized the decision. The politicizing of the judiciary isn't new and it certainly isn't solely a conservative strategy. And yet most Americans would like to think that, as a matter of law, there is some greater guide than politics in the Michigan decision. Whatever the outcome, we have yet another brick off the wall separating the judiciary from politics.

Finally, race. Potentially lost in all this is the actual issue at hand--whether the University of Michigan has the right to consider race in admissions. Race has become a political scalpel, used to carve up constituencies. I think Americans would also like to see decisions like this lead toward something more democratic, more fair. By removing that central goal and replacing it with political advantage, the country is robbed of the chance to hear a genuine discussion and participate in that process.

[Addendum] Ah yes, he might also have defered, citing Michigan's right to determine this kind law.

posted by Jeff | 4:50 PM |
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