Friends of Affirmative Action
New York Times
Without affirmative action, the United States might not be able to defend itself from foreign enemies. That startling assertion comes from a legal brief filed by high-ranking retired officers and civilian leaders of the military, including Adm. William Crowe Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President Ronald Reagan, and Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of allied forces during the first gulf war.
The military brief is one of a tall stack of amicus curiae, or friend of the court, briefs filed on behalf of the University of Michigan in two pivotal affirmative action cases being argued in the Supreme Court today. At issue is not just the admissions policies at Michigan's college and law school, but the question of whether race can be taken into account by universities, employers and the government to promote diversity. The briefs provide the court — and particularly Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the likely swing vote — with compelling reasons to uphold affirmative action.
The briefs supporting Michigan — filed by major corporations, elected officials and academics, among others — testify to how central affirmative action is to preserving diversity in American life, and to how much damage would be done if it were eliminated. In Vietnam, the military brief notes, many African-Americans served among the enlisted but few were officers, and the forces were racially polarized. It became so bad, the brief says, the leadership feared that the military was "on the verge of self-destruction." But race-based recruitment programs increased the percentage of minority officers and greatly improved race relations.
Fortune 500 companies tell the court about the importance they, too, place on affirmative action. A brief on behalf of 65 corporations, including Microsoft, Coca-Cola and General Electric, asserts that racial and ethnic diversity in colleges and universities is vital to the companies' ability to maintain a diverse work force, and ultimately to their "continued success in the global marketplace."
The civil rights movement started on the fringes of society, but today its goals of inclusion and diversity are core American values. In its 1978 decision upholding the use of race in admissions, the Supreme Court recognized that universities have an interest in promoting diversity through an admissions policy that takes race into account. This interest in diversity has only grown since then as our nation has become more multiracial and multicultural, and the world has grown smaller.
Today's cases are not about minority rights, but about the kind of society we want to be. An impressive number of establishment institutions have all weighed in to say that affirmative action is a good, and even a necessary, policy for the nation as a whole. Count this page as one more friend of the court that urges it to uphold the University of Michigan's admissions policies.