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."

--Danielle Service

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