I usually find Ann Althouse’s posts incisive even when I don’t find them persuasive, but this one today — whose money quote is from a Democratic legislator who said “We got a lot of white people in Wisconsin” — is uncharacteristically obtuse.
First, her title, “Taking race into account — simply wrong or rather complex?” succumbs to disengenuous euphemism. What is at issue with affirmative action is not “taking race into account” (or the nearly identical euphemism, engaging in “race conscious” policies) but what is done after it is taken into account. And what is done, of course, is favoring some individuals and disfavoring others solely because of their race or ethnicity.
Althouse obviously thinks this racial discrimination is “complex,” and she takes Roger Clegg, president and general counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity (whose recent studies found extensive discrimination at the University of Wisconsin), to task for describing it as “simply wrong.”
Here’s the thing. The University’s policies align with the Supreme Court’s case law, which permits race discrimination narrowly tailored to serve the goal of classroom diversity. Clegg performs moral clarity: He says race discrimination is “wrong” and “bad.” That’s something he just knows, quite aside from the CEO’s study. He asserts it in answer to any question from someone who thinks there’s something more complicated here — that is, someone who would leave it to the University to design and implement its own admissions policy.
As usual, I’m with Clegg. Racial discrimination is simply wrong and bad, and it does not become “more complicated” because some people who favor it are well-intentioned. Early (and occasionally not so early) in the last century advocates of the “complex” race and ethnic preferences Althouse seems to favor were more honest and forthright. They had no problem describing Ivy League admissions policies that took ethnicity into account as a Jewish quota, although none of those schools so far as I’m aware excluded Jews; they simply limited them to something less than a critical mass.
The 1964 Civil Rights Act attempted (imperfectly as it turned out, because of interpretations like Althouse’s) to put an end to leaving it to universities to design and implement whatever kind of discriminatory admission policies they wanted. The fact that, thanks to Sandra Day O’Connor, some of that sort of discrimination still remains legal doesn’t make it “complex” or keep it from being simply “wrong” and “bad.”