The Tortured Logic of BAMN

People who have followed the effort to put initiatives on state ballots eliminating racial preferences from college admissions might remember this advertisement from 2008, which set Ward Connerly in Klan regalia. Two years before, a group called Think Progress posted a video on its web page under the headline “Leader of Michigan Initiative To End Affirmative Action Welcomes Ku Klux Klan Support.”
Those are revolting examples. Not much less so are the occasions when Connerly has been shouted down and booed while speaking against racial preferences and supporting various ballot measures across the nation (see here for Connerly leaving the podium after repeated interruptions in Omaha).
Now, according to this story by Peter Schmidt in the Chronicle of Higher Education , the pro-affirmative action group Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration, and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality by Any Means Necessary (BAMN) has filed a lawsuit against California’s ban, Proposition 209, and their target is Connerly himself and the organization he started, the American Civil Rights Institute. Challenges to 209 have been attempted before and failed, but BAMN believes that 209 nonetheless “violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution by placing a distinct set of legal hurdles in front of minority groups seeking to increase their representation on the university system’s campuses.”
It takes some tortured logic to reach that conclusion, and here are some of the statements in the actual complaint (which appears here).

“Proposition 209 passed in 1996 simply and solely because the white majority electorate overrode the overwhelming opposition of the Latina/o, black, Native American and Asian voters.”
“. . . Proposition 209 also violates the Equal Protection Clause because it was specifically intended to decrease or hold down Latina/o, black and Native American enrollment (a) by substantively prohibiting the UC from pursuing racial integration and diversity—while allowing it to pursue every other form of integration and diversity, (b) by prohibiting the UC from taking account in admissions of the massive educational inequality due to race—while allowing it to take account of every lesser form of educational inequality; and (c) by legally requiring the University to apply its existing admission criteria in rigid ways that reflect and magnify de facto segregation and inequality in elementary and secondary education.”

And then this one about Connerly himself:

“Indeed, Ward Connerly, the prime sponsor of Proposition 209, has finally admitted under oath that his goal was that Proposition 209 would administer the “tough love” that minority students supposedly needed in order to force them to work hard enough order to secure admission on “their own merits”—that is, according to merit as determined by a system that Connerly himself admits both incorporates and magnifies the unequal nature of elementary and secondary education.”

The statement reflects BAMN’s fixation on Connerly, which is magnified on BAMN’s web page which bears the banner: “Stop Ward Connerly! Defend Affirmative Action & Integration!” (see here). Read more of BAMN’s statements and you see it’s a personal thing. Later on in the Chronicle article, George B. Washington, BAMN’s lead attorney in the effort, explains that the legal challenge isn’t aimed so much to change state law, but rather “to throw a wrench into campaigns on behalf of similar measures being mounted by the American Civil Rights Institute.”
That statement is Schmidt’s paraphrase of Washington’s claim. Two paragraphs later we get Washington’s own words on the tactic, and they’re worse: “The coalition needs to defeat Proposition 209, Mr. Washington said, because otherwise the American Civil Rights Institute is “going to go and play bully boy with minorities in states like Utah and Arizona.”
Think about that rhetoric. It sounds not like a serious legal mind at work, but rather a cheap politician taking lessons from Saul Alinsky, author of the famed Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals. One of Alinsky’s tactics is “Pick a target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” That’s what Connerly has had to endure for more than a dozen years now, and one can only wonder at how he maintains the energy and composure to press on.


  • Mark Bauerlein

    Mark Bauerlein is a professor emeritus of English at Emory University and an editor at First Things, where he hosts a podcast twice a week. He is the author of five books, including The Dumbest Generation Grows Up: From Stupefied Youth to Dangerous Adults.

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