Citizens eager to break laws they don't support

Posted: May 01, 2002 12:00 AM
Getting a social reform passed is tough enough. Next comes the harder problem of dealing with stubborn resistance from bureaucrats who refuse to change.

Take welfare reform. It has been a brilliant success, so resistance should have vanished, right? No. Attempts to undermine workfare by counting "education and training" as work are everywhere. The states, most of which fought workfare and lost, are renewing the old fight. New York City's new welfare commissioner calls the reforms a "heavy-handed ... numbers game" and a "cookie-cutter" approach. (Translation: Don't require work.)

Over at, journalist Mickey Kaus, who has covered the welfare issue for years, says he fears some sort of backroom deal that will gut welfare reform. In California, what appears to be a backroom deal by the state board of education has jeopardized the state's law ending bilingual education. In 1998, the voters overwhelmingly passed Prop. 227, dismantling the disastrous bilingual bureaucracy. Like welfare reform, 227 has been a tremendous success. Latino children are picking up English quickly and their scores on reading and writing have soared.

But in response to pressure from the old bilingual lobby, the state's board of education loosened rules. The law says only parents can apply for children's waivers from English immersion classes. The new rules allow teachers rather than parents to decide whether children should be in bilingual programs, thus nullifying a core provision of 227. The empire strikes back.

This follows an intense campaign of noncompliance with 227. The law said "nearly all" teaching must be in English, but some districts set the bar of "nearly all" at 60 percent of teaching. Some Los Angeles schools set it at 49.9 percent. Games were played with the strict waiver rules. Officials told a conference of teachers (falsely) that English alphabet sounds would not be taught in English-only classes. Many other tricks were played to circumvent the law. One was to turn a public school into an exempt "alternative" or "magnet" school. Some schools skipped the finagling and just flatly refused to obey the law.

Worse, backers of 227 fear a broad "settlement" that undermines what voters passed. The state department of education took the legal defense of 227 out of the hands of the conservative Pacific Legal Foundation and gave it to California attorney general Bill Lockyer. He is a very odd choice. If California ever builds a museum of noncompliance, a statue of Lockyer should be in it. He has declined to enforce Prop. 209, the state anti-preferences law, against many state agencies that flout it. When the city of San Jose was hauled into court as a violator of 209, Lockyer spoke in the city's defense, depicting a preference program as benign outreach. The Pacific Legal Foundation turned up documents showing that Lockyer himself used illegal race-based preferences in his own department.

Racial preferences, of course, are the mother lode of modern noncompliance with the law. The PLF estimates that 30 percent of California public agencies do not comply with the law against race and gender preferences. Nationally, quota evasions grow ever more complex. Lapsing into frankness, the University of Texas School of Law told a court that the state's public universities were using "18 admission factors, mostly having nothing to do with academics," in the hope some factors will yield more minority students. The University of California's emphasis on "life experiences" is in this category.

The University of Texas is also reserving slots for graduates of 130 state high schools that traditionally do not send many students to campus. This is described as an attempt to achieve geographic and cultural diversity, but the schools are mostly in inner-city areas, so it looks like an illegal end-run around the 1996 Hopwood decision banning race preferences. Anything to beat the law.

Maybe we should talk a bit about what happens to a culture in which so many high-minded citizens are busy finagling, lying and breaking the law. Roger Clegg of the anti-preferences Center for Equal Opportunity says we are seeing the rise of "massive resistance" that even a Supreme Court decision may not stop. This is an interesting reference. In the old South, poll taxes and literacy tests were obvious law-evading proxies for black exclusion, similar in style to the many pro-preference law-evading proxies used today.

The bilingual lobby copied another segregationist tactic: converting public schools into academies so the law can be evaded. A California outfit, By Any Means Necessary, says frankly it will break any law to promote inclusion. They style themselves as progressives, but their diehard resistance and not-so-subtle hints about violence remind me of the old White Citizens Councils. Deliver us from people so in love with their own moral passion that they think they are entitled to break the law.