The Right Coast

May 10, 2005
Do You Mean Extremely Moderate?
By Gail Heriot

My friend Roger Clegg posted an item on the NRO Corner yesterday:

"The AP story today on the Bush judicial nominees being filibustered says that they are being targeted because of what Democrats call their “extreme views” on affirmative action, among other issues. I would submit that it is not possible to have an “extreme view” opposing affirmative action. The furthest to the right you can be is to want racial preferences in college admissions, employment, and contracting completely eliminated—but that is actually the mainstream position, if by mainstream we mean what most Americans favor. It is possible to be an extremist in the other direction—favoring, say, mandatory quotas for every classroom in every university in every state in the country—but not on the right."

Roger has a point. How can opposition to racial preferences be out of the mainstream? In the two states that have had voter initiatives on the ballot prohibiting racial preferences, both passed by substantial margins--California (54.6%) and Washington State (58.22%). Moreover, Drs. Paul Snideman and Thomas Piazza, co-authors of The Scar of Race (which I recommend) and leading experts on public opinion, state that the racial preference agenda "is controversial precisely because most Americans do not disagree about it. Over the past decades, their opposition has been consistent, unyielding and from all corners of society. For example, a poll conducted by the Washington Post a couple of years ago showed that 94% of whites and 86% of African Americans agreed that hiring, promotions,and college admissions should be based "strictly on merit and qualifications other than race/ethnicity."

Supporters of racial-based admissions policies argue that public opinion is malleable on this issue and that results vary according to the way the question is asked. The point about results varying is true: But they vary only to the extent that they go from bad news for supporters of race-based admissions policies to very, very, very bad news. For example, the Gallup poll released just a day before the Supreme Court's decision in the Michigan cases was touted by some as evidence of public support for race-base admissions, because a plurality (49%) expressed support for the abstract concept of "affirmative action." But respondents made a clear distinction between affirmative action and preferential standards. A full 69% said that college applicants "should be admitted solely on the basis of merit, even if that results in few minority students being admitted." Only 27% took the position that an applicant's race should be taken into consideration "even if that means admitting some minority students who otherwise would not be admitted."

It is laughable to argue that Bush nominees are out of the maintream on this issue.