Attorney general, legal scholar debate Affirmative Action
Two prominent members of Georgia's legal and political communities staged
a debate sponsored by the Ethics Center Nov. 12 on one of the nation's most
highly contested topics: Affirmative Action.
Michael Bowers, attorney general of Georgia since 1981, and Larry Blount,
professor at the University of Georgia School of Law and pastor at the Springfield
Baptist Church in Comer, Ga., presented their opposing views during the
session titled "Affirmative Action: A Constructive Debate."
Bowers said he knew of "no other subject on which the future of this
country more depends. The topic deals with how we as human beings will deal
with one another.
"We don't have all the answers," Bowers continued, "but the
question boils down to this: Are we a nation of groups or individuals? Should
grants be awarded due to group affiliation or merit? If we base them on
merit, we'll look at character, hard work and contribution. If we base them
on group affiliation, we'll look at race, gender and creed. I personally
prefer the former."
Using current events to defend his views, Bowers said the situation in Bosnia
served as "no better example why people shouldn't be characterized
by group ... we need to deal with each other as individuals." In line
with this view, Bowers said he opposes Affirmative Action if it is based
on race-based decision making. "I don't think it's moral or in the
best interest of our country today," he said. "I don't think it's
right. We need an open society that is diverse and inclusive; the answer
is not to make decisions based on race."
In contrast to Bowers' views, Blount used a three-tiered historical perspective
to demonstrate the struggles of African-Americans in the United States.
Although reconstructive efforts were attempted during the mid-1800s, Blount
called them "prematurely aborted." With the 1896 Supreme Court
case of Plessy v. Ferguson, "Affirmative Action died its first death
because America lost its will to do right," Blount said. "Social
dehumanization became a reality for African-Americans."
In the 1960s, the United States had "its second Civil War, but we didn't
call it that," Blount said. The Civil Rights Movement and the laws
established during that time "gave African-Americans the same rights
they were granted 100 years earlier," he continued. The second reconstructive
effort was called the era of Affirmative Action.
Blount said the case at the University of Texas law school earlier this
year is "cut from the same cloth as Plessy v. Ferguson" and "reflects
hostility toward Affirmative Action ... it is ironic that the attempt to
make America color blind comes at a time when America is very race conscious.
"The problem is still with us. Race is clearly a part of social reality,"
Blount continued. "Americans see in colors." In support of Affirmative
Action in light of these statements, Blount said that "desegregation
and integration are not the same thing. Diversity will not happen because
the opportunity is present ... America does not treat her citizens equally."
Blount said that Affirmative Action is a deliberate process designed to
remedy past wrongs and ensure success for disadvantaged groups. "Affirmative
Action benefits Americans, not just African-Americans," Blount said.
"It is immoral, unethical and irrational to acknowledge the race problem
but refuse Affirmative Action [as a means] to solve the problem."
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