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Responding to the Affirmative Action Report

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Responding to the Affirmative Action Report

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Responding to the Affirmative Action Report

Responding to the Affirmative Action Report

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Victor Bolden, general counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, offers a different perspective on the Civil Rights Commission's report. He explains why he thinks it's flawed.

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

And for a different perspective, we've got Victor Bolden. He's general counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Victor, thanks for coming on.

Mr. VICTOR BOLDEN (General Counsel, NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund): Oh, it's a pleasure to be here.

CHIDEYA: So, do you agree with Chairman Reynolds that affirmative action actually hurts law students who seemed to benefit?

Mr. BOLDEN: Well, I think there are a couple of points that should be made up front. First of all, as the commission's report itself notes in - from one of the witnesses who testified before it that the study that underlies the commission's own recommendations are, quote, "are so poorly grounded in the data and so fraught with analytic problems that they deserve no wait in the policy debate on affirmative action," end quote.

So, in terms of the actual data that they rely on, there are serious questions about that, but beyond that there's a real serious question about what the purpose of such a report does and whether or not it actually helps the situation. There's the old biblical adage; by their fruit shall you know them. For African-American students looking to succeed in law school, pass the bar, or have a successful legal career. The commission's report not only provides no fruit, it did not plant any seeds capable of doing so. So, there's a - to the extent that there are racial disparities with respect to how African-American students are doing in law school and passing the bar, then we should be talking about what are we doing to help them.

CHIDEYA: Now, let me just ask, do you think that this debate has implications for the larger debate over affirmative action, and also what about the language of racial preferences and affirmative action?

Mr. BOLDEN: Like I said, I'm not sure that this is really - should be a serious debate based on the commission's report given that the series of problems that academics themselves have found with the underlying data. But I think that the broader point is - the real question is the question for us as a nation. There are serious questions of educational employment opportunity and particularly in the African-American community. We have a situation where African-Americans over the age of 25 are more likely to be without a high school diploma than have a college degree, much less a law school degree.

We as a nation ought to be doing everything we can to assist them to attend law school, succeed while their graduate, pass the bar, has successful legal careers. If we're not doing that we're failing. And rather than challenge the nation in general, and law schools in particular, to do more for African-American to succeed this report ends up recommending data collection disclosure. In essence to the study, say, suggesting more study not providing action on questions - serious questions of equal opportunity.

So I don't think it really merits much debate on this whole question of what do we do as a nation to move forward. What we should do as a nation to move forward are the kinds of things that law schools had been doing, that corporations had been doing of recognizing that we, as a nation, have to come together. And we have to make sure that there's an opportunity for everyone regardless of their race, their ethnicity, their class, their gender, their sex, their sexual orientation or whatever to be able to succeed in the society.

CHIDEYA: But let me just throw this in.

Mr. BOLDEN: Yes.

CHIDEYA: Reforming America's K-12 Education could take decades. What can we do now? What are suggesting that people do now?

Mr. BOLDEN: Oh, I think that's exactly right. I don't think that this - while it's important to reform K-12 Education, the issue with respect to law schools suggested there could be reform with respect to law schools since there's - if to the extent, there's a problem. And that is it may mean that we need to provide more assistance, not less. That we may need to do more to assist African-American students so they can succeed in law school, so that they could pass the bar.

So the issue really is what can we do for those African-American students who want to practice law. What are willing to do to make sure that they'll be able to do that? It's, you know, given some of the dire statistics that exist about the African-American community, we should be encouraging those who want to be on the right side of Americans legal system fulfill their dream to do so.

So that - so we can do - and law schools and this nation should be challenged to figure out ways to have students succeed, graduate, pass the bar and go on and have successful legal careers, not just simply let's talk about collecting more data and use this in some war regarding affirmative action or racial preferences or however one wants to describe it.

The issue is: What are we going to do about opportunity and what opportunities are we going to provide for people to succeed and particularly succeed with respect to law school?

CHIDEYA: Final question. You are part of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and certainly people like Thurgood Marshall have championed the causes of civil rights in the name of the NAACP. How do law-related civil rights organizations propose dealing with this directly?

Mr. BOLDEN: As I said, I think the way to deal with it directly is to provide more assistance, not less. To recognize that we have to do more to provide opportunity, not close off opportunity. That we have to talk about what we're going to do, not simply with respect to K-12, but what we're going to do to make sure that law schools are places where African-American students succeed and graduate and go on and have successful careers. That's what are challenge is. And that's the challenge that everyone really should be working for - how do make sure everyone has an equal opportunity to become a lawyer.

CHIDEYA: Well, Victor Bolden, thank you so much.

Mr. BOLDEN: All right. It's a pleasure being here.

CHIDEYA: Victor Bolden is general counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, and we've been discussing the issue of affirmative action in law schools. You can always go on our blog, NPR News and Views. It's nprnewsandviews - no spaces - .org.

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