The Anti-Defamation League Reverses Course on Affirmative Action

In explaining why the American Jewish Committee had (with his help) supported Alan Bakke’s lawsuit against the University of California but also supported the University of Michigan’s racial preferences in Gratz and Grutter, Alan Dershowitz wrote that

We feared that our hard-earned right to be admitted on the merits would be taken away. The WASP quotient would be held constant, and the Jews and African Americans would be left to fight over the crumbs. What happened is that Jews have become the WASPs. They are among the dominant groups on campus, in terms of numbers.

Three of the most influential Jewish organizations — The American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress, and the Anti-Defamation League — opposed preferences based on race in Bakke. In fact, according to a detailed summary of the brief they filed jointly, the two AJCs went much further and even opposed all classifications based on race, calling them “presumptively invalid because of their irrelevant and invidious nature.”  The Anti-Defamation League filed its own brief in Bakke, which was equally strong: it insisted that “a difference in race cannot be an appropriate justification for different treatment by the state.”

By 2002 both the American Jewish Committee and the American Jewish Congress, perhaps fearful of straining black-Jewish relations, abandoned their Bakke-era principles and supported the University of Michigan’s use of race preferences.  However, the ADL maintained that “people should not be judged by skin color, and any use of race in admissions is unconstitutional.” 

“What we want is society to be as colorblind as possible,” National Director Abe Foxman insisted to the Jewish Daily Forward, “and therefore to use [race] for good purposes we believe is as unconstitutional as using it for bad purposes, especially if there are other ways to achieve the goal of diversity.” For example, he said, “the ADL supports Texas’s policy of guaranteeing the top 10% of each high school’s graduating class admission to the state university of their choice to promote diversity in lieu of racial preferences.”

Last Friday, however, the ADL abandoned its “principled position” and filed a brief supporting the University of Texas’s open-ended use of “race-based criteria.” Swallowing the same “holistic” race preference Kool-aid to which the American Jewish Committee and American Jewish Congress had been addicted since Grutter, Foxman, still National Director of ADL, and Robert Sugarman, its National Chair, issued a statement revealing their belief that “diversity,” not non-discrimination, is “critically important.”  

The University of Texas’ approach does not impose quotas, assign people to categories based on their race, or use race as a determinative factor in making admissions decisions.  Rather, it uses race as only one factor in a holistic review of each applicant. This is not an overt or a covert quota system, which ADL would have opposed.

Thoroughly jettisoning its formerly “principled” opposition to “any use of race in admissions,” the ADL now opposes only “quotas, assigning persons to categories based on their race, or using race as a determinative factor in making admissions decisions” [emphasis added]. I wonder what Foxman et al. will say when religion is considered “as only one factor,” and not a “determinative” one, in efforts to diversify departments, faculties, and professions in which Jews are “overrepresented.” They certainly can have no principled objection to taking religion into account in admission and hiring.

John S. Rosenberg

John S. Rosenberg

John Rosenberg blogs at Discriminations.

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