Thousands rallied in support of affirmative action at the U.S. Supreme Court and the Lincoln Memorial Tuesday, calling on the Court to uphold the practice of giving preferential treatment to minorities in college admissions.
The court heard oral arguments in two cases challenging the University of Michigan’s use of race as a factor in admissions, a practice the Bush administration has argued is tantamount to using quotas, a system outlawed by the Court 25 years ago.
Solicitor General Theodore Olson, the Bush administration’s top lawyer, called the practice used to varying degrees by many of the nation’s institutions of higher learning “a thinly disguised quota.”
Students traveled from across the nation to attend the demonstration on the steps of the Court and on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Speakers included the Rev. Al Sharpton, Martin Luther King III and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
Jackson thanked the crowd for the support of affirmative action and commented that the racial equality affirmative action sought to create has yet to be achieved, noting more blacks are behind bars than in college.
Organizers said students from more than 200 colleges and universities across the nation were represented at the day’s demonstrations, at which crowds swelled to between 5,000 and 7,000, according to the Associated Press.
“We are here today to send a message to the white bureaucrats,” said Bianca Suarez, a Loyola University student. “We will not rest until equality reigns from sea to sea.”
Suarez also sang a song in Spanish roughly translated to mean, ” a village united will never be defeated.”
While the majority of demonstrators were minorities, white students and activists also participated.
Maryland resident Evan Parker, 20, held a sign that read, “another white kid for affirmative action.”
“It is important to get out and show support for a cause you believe strongly in,” Parker said. ‘This is a policy that needs to stay for the benefit of all students for the benefits of diversity.”
Television personality Judge Greg Mathis said the presence of demonstrators on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial reminded him of the 1960s when protesters for civil rights frequently gathered in the shadow of the Civil War president.
“We will continue to fight for affirmative action and we will win,” Mathis said. “The fact is that none of us have ever wanted race to be a factor. We are not the ones who made race a factor.”
Mathis, whose dynamic adlibbed speech energized the crowd, said affirmative action had helped him and can continue to help others.
“I am one judge who does not mind admitting I am a beneficiary of affirmative action,” Mathis said. He said he would not betray the system that had helped him attain the life he now has.
The University of Michigan’s admissions policies have been under fire since 1997, when two white students who were denied admission to its undergraduate school and a third denied admission to its law school, sued the school claiming discrimination. The students claimed they were denied in favor of less-qualified minority students.
Miranda Massie, lead counsel for the defendants in the two cases, said it is a myth that actual equality had been reached.
“Our schools must be integrated to achieve the promise of a common humanity,” Massie said.
The two cases before the Supreme Court are Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger.