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Who funds the attack on affirmative action?
Tracing the money trail

Lee Cokorinos, The Assault on Diversity: An Organized Challenge to Racial and Gender Justice. Rowman and Littlefield, 2003, 208 pages, $26.95.

Review by Susan Dwyer | July 18, 2003 | Page 9

"WE'LL SUE you for punitive damages. We will attack your integrity. We will nail you to the wall." That's the warning Michael Greve of the Center for Individual Rights gave anyone who dared challenge Proposition 209, which gutted affirmative action in California schools in 1995.

Among those who lead this vicious assault on affirmative action, there are names you might recognize. They include Ed Meese, Ronald Reagan's disgraced attorney general, and Clarence Thomas, who ran the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under Ronald Reagan and now sits on the Supreme Court. Some names are less familiar, like Ward Connerly, the African American University of California regent who spearheaded the drive to end affirmative action programs in that state.

Most of these people, however, are largely unknown. That's why Lee Cokorinos' new book, The Assault on Diversity, is an invaluable resource for uncovering the institutions, people and money behind the attack on affirmative action.

Taking an anti-affirmative action case from local circuit courts to the U.S. Supreme Court takes a great deal of money. Cokorinos traced the money trail and found four wealthy funding sources behind the attack--the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, John M. Olin Foundation, Sarah Scaife Foundation and the Smith Richardson Foundation. The Center for Individual Rights, which litigated the recent lawsuits against the University of Michigan's law school and undergraduate admissions programs, received money from ADM, ARCO, Chevron, Coors, Pfizer, Phillip Morris, Texaco, USX and Xerox.

The Pioneer Fund, which funded the pseudo-science behind Charles Murray's racist book The Bell Curve, provided the Center with early seed money. From the establishment of the Heritage Foundation's Center for Legal and Judicial Studies in 1982, these foundations have provided the money to establish law firms and research institutions, and to fund the massive public relations effort launched against affirmative action.

The right's cynicism in all of this can be found not only in the twisted names they give their foundations--Center for Individual Rights, American Civil Rights Institute, Center for Equal Opportunity--but also in the manner in which they handle their most public cases. As Cokorinos points out, all lawsuits brought by these foundations against affirmative action have a white woman as lead plaintiff. According to Cokorinos, "This coordinated action [by the right-wing foundations] is designed to affect the commitment to racial and gender diversity of both public and private institutions, and to fundamentally undermine the public support on which this commitment depends."

Despite this massive public relations campaign, however, recent polls show that anywhere from 52 to 73 percent of Americans feel that affirmative action is a necessary good. Even in polls that show only a slim majority in favor of affirmative action, the percentage of people who said that affirmative action should be overturned never climbs above 15 percent.

Despite this, Cokorinos' conclusion is pessimistic. "However the political battle over diversity remedies is resolved, it seems that we may be reaching a point of no return in the battle for an inclusive society. Civil rights lawyers appear to agree that the judicial noose is tightening around these remedies."

It has to be pointed out that the battle for civil rights, and the affirmative action necessary to assure the success of civil rights, was won by hundreds of thousands of people demonstrating, sitting in, marching and loudly demanding racial equality. That movement had a profound and positive effect on millions of Americans--and on the Supreme Court, which in the 1960s and 1970s put in place the most sweeping civil rights laws the nation has ever seen.

The right spends its money not simply to win in the court, but to convince the rest of us that civil rights equal unfair and special treatment for Blacks, Hispanics and all other minorities. We may not be able to outspend the right, but we can and should out-march them. It is time to build a new civil rights movement that demands equal justice under the law for all minority groups.

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