(CNSNews.com) - President Bush announced on Wednesday that his administration will challenge an affirmative action program being tested before the Supreme Court, saying that the University of Michigan's rewards for minority students amounts to a quota system.
"I strongly support diversity of all kinds, including racial diversity in higher education, but the method used by the University of Michigan to achieve this goal is fundamentally flawed," the president said in a late afternoon announcement.
"At their core, the Michigan policies amount to a quota system that unfairly rewards or penalizes prospective students solely on their race," he stated.
On Thursday, the administration will file a brief with the Supreme Court opposing the points system, arguing that Michigan's law school program is unconstitutional. The case of reverse discrimination was brought by three white students. Supporters of the Michigan program have until February to submit their briefs.
According to the president, out of a possible 150 points, the university gives minority students 20 points based solely on their race. Bush said the university gives perfect SAT scores a value of 12 points. Students who reach 100 points are generally admitted. "So those 20 points awarded based solely on race are often a decisive factor," Bush said.
The Supreme Court banned racial quotas in 1978 but allowed schools to consider race in admissions.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) expressed his disappointment immediately after the president's remarks. "Once again today, the administration has shown as clearly by their actions as anyone can, that they will continue to side with those opposed to civil rights and opposed to diversity in this country," Daschle said on the floor of the Senate.
Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.), a University of Michigan alumnus and 2004 presidential hopeful, said he would file his own brief in support of the Michigan program, and he urged his colleagues to do the same.
The president suggested that a better means of reaching diversity would be based on guaranteeing a spot in universities for a defined percentage of the top grade earners.
"As a nation, as a government and as individuals, we must be vigilant in responding to prejudice wherever we find it, yet as we work to address the wrong of racial prejudice, we must not use means that create another wrong and thus perpetuate our divisions," the he said.
While governor of Texas, Bush advocated that 10 percent of all high school students become eligible for admission to public universities. Supporters say that the policy increased diversity without making race a direct factor in admissions policies because many high schools are made up largely of minority students.
The White House often gives its two cents on potentially landmark cases, but in this case, an executive branch move is controversial because the court ruling would be the judicial branch's most important statement on racial preferences in a generation and could substantially change the way public colleges and universities select their students.
And at a time when the GOP is trying to prove to the country that it can, in fact, effectively reach out to minorities, Bush's decision may be critical in how successful his party will be in that endeavor.