Democrats Commit to Affirmative Action
Annie Shuppy and
Iowa Presidential Politics.com
Affirmative action remains a controversial topic for many conservatives
in this country, but all the Democratic presidential candidates
continue to commit
to it - and to use the issue to distance themselves from President Bush.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s affirmative action decision last summer upheld
the University of Michigan’s law school admissions practices but overturned
the university’s undergraduate policies.
Rep. Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., expressed disappointment with the court's undergraduate
ruling but said its
upholding of the law school case “makes clear that race continues to be
a legitimate factor to consider in providing opportunity to all students.”
Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun also has praised the Supreme Court’s decision
to allow the Michigan law school to maintain its affirmative action efforts.
“The survival of affirmative action creates hope that opportunity exists
for those who have not yet had a chance to lead and that performance and talent
will be rewarded,” Moseley Braun said. “That hope keeps our society
on a path toward progress and the fulfillment of the promise of the Declaration
of Independence and the Constitution.”
In January 2003, President Bush issued a statement arguing that the University
of Michigan admissions “quota” was unconstitutional and discriminatory
against whites — comments that have since met a backlash from Democrats
and civil rights groups.
At their core, the Michigan policies amount to a quota system that unfairly
rewards or penalizes prospective students, based solely on their race,” Bush
said. “The motivation for such an admissions policy may be very good, but
its result is discrimination, and that discrimination is wrong.”
Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean alleged Nov. 15 at the Jefferson Jackson Day
Dinner in Des Moines that some of Bush’s attacks on affirmative action
are “deliberately designed to make people fear they will lose their job
to a member of color in the community.”
Some Democratic candidates have participated in joint legal actions supporting
the university’s policies. Along with 110 other members of the U.S. House,
Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, filed a brief supporting the University of Michigan's
race and ethnicity as an admissions factor, vowing to support diversity
and civil rights.
Retired Gen. Wesley Clark was in a group of retired military officers who also
filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of Michigan’s admission
policy. He has said that such policies are necessary to facilitate diversity
and add to the legitimacy of the nation’s leaders.
I saw what could be accomplished when doors of opportunity for all opened
as we did through a strong affirmative action program in the U.S. military,” Clark
said in a statement submitted by his campaign. “As president, I'd do everything
I can to make sure that the rest of our nation -- the government, the business
sector, education, health care -- met the same standard of fair and equal treatment.”
The appointment of Supreme Court and federal court justices who will uphold affirmative
action policies is a central concern to many Democrats, including Sens. John
Edwards, D-N.C., and John Kerry, D-Mass. As lifetime appointees, judicial nominees
fundamental issues such as civil rights, religious freedom, privacy rights and
freedom of speech for decades to come.
A common thread in the Democrats’ affirmative action policy is the contention
that it is a natural extension of civil rights laws that emerged out of activism
in the 1960s and that the diversity these policies yield is necessary in order
to accurately represent America in colleges and in the job market.
During an Oct. 7 stump speech in Cedar Rapids, Edwards avowed his support for
affirmative action, calling it a civil rights issue.
“I grew up with segregation all around me, but at the same time I saw incredible
strength,” Edwards said of his Southern upbringing. “The civil rights
movement is not over in this country. We need to have judges who enforce our
civil rights laws.”
Kerry has said he believes that individuals appointed to all of our federal courts “must
be committed to interpreting the law and preserving constitutional and civil
Kerry voted for every major piece of civil rights legislation to come before
Congress since 1985, including the Civil Rights Act of 1991, the Civil Rights
Restoration Act of 1987 and the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to
a statement from Kerry’s Iowa campaign. He also voted for the Equal Rights
Amendment and supports the Employment Nondiscrimination Act.
“John Kerry believes in an America where we take common sense steps to
ensure that our schools and workplaces reflect the full face of America,” the
statement said. “He has consistently opposed efforts in the Senate to undermine
or eliminate affirmative action programs and supports programs that seek to enhance
diversity, for example, by fostering the growth of minority small businesses.”
Kucinich also counts affirmative action as a civil rights issue, contending that “affirmative
action is right, it is necessary, and it must be preserved.
“America's diversity is a strength, not a weakness, and it is absolutely
critical that we nurture programs that enhance opportunities for those who have
been historically left behind,” Kucinich said in a statement released on
the day the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the University of Michigan
affirmative action case. “To do nothing, to abolish affirmative action,
is to use means to fall back into the de facto segregation of the past, which
made a mockery of democracy, equality, liberty and justice -- the very values
on which this nation was founded.”
Some conservatives such as Linda Chavez, president of the Center for Equal Opportunity,
a nonprofit public policy research organization in Washington, D.C., argue that
affirmative action is distinguishable from civil rights issues, and that the
policies that have emerged as a result are ultimately more detrimental to minorities
than most Americans realize.
Dean has blasted conservatives for taking this stance on affirmative action.
is a study in the Wall Street Journal that says you have a better chance getting
a job if you’re white and have a criminal record than if you’re black
and you don’t. We still have a long way to go for equity and justice,” Dean
said at an agriculture forum in Des Moines on Nov. 15. “We need to stop
allowing the Republicans to divide us by race. I will never apologize for talking
Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., has inclinations similar to Dean’s on the
affirmative action issue. According to a statement from his campaign, he instituted
an aggressive affirmative action policy that resulted in more than half of his
office's full-time workforce consisting of women and minorities as state attorney
As a U.S. senator, Lieberman has voted against GOP efforts to end affirmative
supported President Clinton's "mend, not end" approach, and backed
the University of Michigan in defending its affirmative action program, the statement
"Lieberman supported Clinton's affirmative action plan and still plans
to support it,” said Kevin McCarthy, an Iowa representative for the Lieberman
campaign. “He will defend affirmative action against all criticism."
Quotes from the candidates
Annie Shuppy at [email protected] and Christina Preiss at [email protected]