Niagara Gazette

October 26, 2013

HAMILTON: Affirmative action, vouchers and the Supreme Court

By Ken Hamilton
Niagara Gazette

Will the United States Supreme Court uphold the ban that Michigan residents voted to impose upon public colleges concerning race-based entrance preferences? 

This is one ultra-conservative liberal who hopes that it doesn’t. Until Michigan residents vote to fix the problem that precipitated what educators deemed the need for these race-based quotas, then the court should not strike down the valiant efforts of Michigan’s higher education administrators, and for good reason.

Ultra-conservative liberal, you ask?

That’s right – because no single political view of anything will always work in any place larger than a New England or bayou-based village; and it certainly won’t work to fix the woes of a state like Michigan.

As Martin Luther King dreamed, I too hope for the end of the need of any affirmative action programs in my lifetime. But Michigan, as with New York state, may require it for a very long time just to pretend that they are fixing the final products of its liberalism; a product that it could easily fix at its front end with the application of a simple conservative program called school vouchers.

Here is Michigan’s, and New York’s, problem. Our primary and secondary inner-city schools are as bad, and Detroit - Michigan’s largest city and school district - is also the largest single population of minorities in the state. In order for many of Michigan’s minority students to enter into some college curriculums, colleges have to either lower their score requirements or to make set-asides for them. 

But if the inner-city school districts were as good as any district in state, then in a mere 13 years, within my lifetime, the product of those schools would be as competitive as is any other group of Michiganders. In such a system, then there would be no need for the tail-end affirmative action program that liberals love and conservatives abhor.

Aside from whatever decision that the Supreme Court may make, I am not sure if politicians on either side of the equation really want to see an end to affirmative action. Both Democrats and Republicans use this wedge issue to polarize their bases and harvest votes – Democrats claiming that they believe in it and Republicans claiming that they want to see an end to it.

I recall the televised debates between past presidential contenders Vice-President Al Gore and Texas Governor George W. Bush. Several times during that debate, Gore challenged Bush on Bush’s “belief” in affirmative action, and Bush responded that he believed in “affirmative opportunity.” Gore repeatedly pressed the point until Bush suggested that they move on; and for good reason.

While Bush’s Texas cabinet was as diverse as any state’s in America, Gore’s staff looked more like the planning committee for his Tennessee family reunion. Whereas one said that they believed in the end product of affirmative action, but was exempted from its implementation, the other did not believe in it, yet possessed all of its fruits.

While Republicans want to see the demise of tail-end affirmative action, they do support the best head-on affirmative action program in the nation — and that is school vouchers.

If parents can choose to send their own children to the primary and secondary schools that actually work best for them, then in our lifetime, as Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor suggested, affirmative action would collapsed under its own weight.

The chief fear of vouchers is two-fold, though. It is evident to many people that the administrators of inner-city schools maintain their budgets based upon the poor results and abundant grants that they get from under-achieving minority students; and many, if not most of their boards are Democrats. 

But even more tragic than that is the fear that many, if not most, minorities have in that if too many of their neighbors use vouchers and pull their children out of poor performing schools, then it would only make it worse for those children of their own who remain behind. 

That is a false fear. U.S. colleges, even those in Michigan, attract students from across the country and around the world; and yet few, if any colleges, ever close before they strive to improve their competitive product of education. They are successful because the abundance of low-cost loans and grant programs are a rebranded type of voucher that allows parents and students to decide which of those colleges would best serve their interests. It would work the same way for primary and secondary schools.

But, until that happens, minorities will once again be placing their hopes for the future in a court’s decision and both the highest and lowest levels – the Supreme Court on one hand, and because of failing inner-city schools, the criminal court on the other hand!

Contact Ken Hamilton at