Less than a week after declaring the University’s admissions policies “fundamentally flawed” and filing a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court arguing against the policies, President Bush yesterday declined to take a more general stance on the use of race as a college admissions factor at a press conference.
Hours after Bush’s comments, the Supreme Court announced oral arguments for both lawsuits against the University, which challenge the race-conscious admission policies of the Law School and College of Literature, Science and the Arts, will be heard back-to-back April 1.
Twice, Bush said the Supreme Court must “define the outer limits of the Constitution” by deciding whether universities can consider the race of an applicant.
“There are clearly unconstitutional means to achieve diversity,” Bush said. “There are race-neutral ways to achieve diversity, which I have put in place as the governor of Texas, and that will lead the courts to define the outer limits of the Constitution.”
As governor, Bush opposed the University of Texas’s use of race in admissions, which was struck down by the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Instead, he supported a law guaranteeing admission to a state university to students in the top 10 percent of each high school’s graduating class.
On national television last week, Bush said the University’s admissions policies are unconstitutional because they rely on racial quotas to promote diversity. But this weekend, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said admissions criteria should be able to include race as a factor, and Secretary of State Colin Powell said he supports the University’s policies.
University spokeswoman Julie Peterson said she is not surprised by Bush’s most recent comments because the brief he filed with the Supreme Court is unclear. Peterson said she interpreted Bush’s argument as a claim that any admissions policy considering race is unconstitutional, without openly opposing the Court’s last ruling on race-conscious college admissions policies – the 1978 University of California Board of Regents v. Bakke decision. The Bakke ruling banned racial quotas but permitted the use of race as an admissions factor.
“His brief doesn’t tackle the issue. His brief ducks the issues,” Peterson said.
The Center for Individual Rights, a Washington-based law firm, represents the rejected white applicants who sued the University. CIR spokesman Curt Levey said the president did not need to state a clear opinion on race-conscious policies yesterday because his brief made his stance on the issue clear.
Even if Bush or members of his administration feel that race can be used as an admissions factor, they believe the University’s policies push constitutional limits too far, Levey said.
Both Levey and Peterson said their respective legal teams will be ready to present half-hour-long oral arguments April 1 in front of the Supreme Court justices. Grutter v. Bollinger, which challenges the admissions policies of the University’s Law School, will be first heard, starting at 10 a.m.
Political science Prof. Michael Traugott said Bush’s deferral to the Supreme Court is an attempt to preserve his voting base and avoid alienating moderate and minority voters at the same time.
“This is a very common political ploy,” Traugott said. “He is trying to offend as few people as possible, but essentially his position is conservative.”