The U.S. Supreme Court has just heard arguments on the state of Michigan's affirmative-action ban. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is expressing confidence he will prevail when the court rules on his appeal of a lower federal court decision striking down his state's 2006 ban on consideration of race in college admissions. Let's hope he's right.
Schuette has said college admissions should be based on merit and that everyone should have equal access to Michigan's top universities. Basically, he is saying admissions policies should be color blind. Who could argue with that? It's the American way. Unfortunately, policymakers around the country - and right here in Colorado - haven't always seen it that way.
I have been deeply involved in this debate for years. In 2004, as a state senator, I carried a bill in the Colorado General Assembly called the Colorado Civil Rights Act. Senate Bill 194 would have halted and prohibited affirmative-action programs in hiring and contracting by state and local governments in Colorado as well as in admissions policies at our state's public colleges and universities. Unfortunately, this sensible, modest proposal - which simply restated the time-honored principle that we should be judged by the content of our character and the value of our contributions to society, not by the color of our skin or our religion or our gender - never even made it out of the state Senate. And that was when we had a Republican majority, if a slim one.
I was elected in 2002; some would say I was the 18th vote of 35 in the Senate that gave the Republicans control of that legislative chamber. Yet, we couldn't enact legislation that would have been overwhelmingly popular with the general public. It seems the affirmative-action mindset was too ingrained in the thinking of the political class.
I have long maintained that affirmative action has outlived its usefulness and is no longer needed. Don't get me wrong: The Civil Rights Act of 1964 needed to happen. Our federal government had to intervene at the dawn of the civil rights movement to end legally enforced discrimination and racism in many states.
Yet, decades later, the pendulum has swung to the opposite extreme - leading to reverse discrimination. And the result has been not only to deny some members of the racial majority opportunities to which they were entitled and had earned, but also to stigmatize racial minorities - especially black Americans. Affirmative action has created the impression - among white Americans as well as minorities - that minority groups cannot succeed economically, academically, politically or otherwise without a special mandate by the government.
My stand on this issue was not received well in my district among blacks and liberal whites. I remember being called to speak to the black leaders, black clergy and the NAACP. The standing-room-only crowd at that gathering came after me with a vengeance and threatened to have bus loads at the Capitol to oppose the bill. I remember smiling and letting them know I would not withdraw the bill. Of the more than 300 who packed the hearing, only 34 testified in support of my bill. Among the vocal opponents: the League of Women Voters, some members of the Colorado State Board of Education and our present governor, who was mayor of Denver at that time.
And among the defenders of affirmative action was also the politician who replaced me in the Senate after the 2006 election. He denounced my efforts to end affirmative action as the product of people "who do not understand what it means to be discriminated against." Perhaps he was overlooking the fact that I, as a black American, grew up in Mississippi in the 1940s and 50s. And he was saying I don't understand what it means to be discriminated against? I lived it.
Just this fall, that politician's career went up in flames when he lost a special recall election mounted by Colorado Springs citizens who had grown weary of his wide-ranging liberal policy positions.
Ed Jones is a former state senator, El Paso County commissioner and a longtime Republican activist in Colorado Springs. Learn more about him at www.theedjones.com