Two things are evident from the 2008 election. The first is the American people voted for change, embodied in President-elect Barack Obama. The second is this is still a center-right country, shown by the success of traditional values ballot initiatives. This center-right orientation will compel our new president-elect to make difficult choices next year, especially regarding racial preferences.
On November 4, 2008, Mr. Obama won a decisive victory to become the 44th president of the United States. The American people spoke with a clear voice, electing an African-American president by majority vote.
President-elect Obama’s leadership was affirmed by the American people. But while he decisively won the election, he must not overreach or misinterpret his mandate.
There was no mandate to change our social culture. The most visible social issue in this election is marriage. State constitutional amendments protecting traditional marriage passed in all three states where it was on the ballot. While such measures passing in Florida and Arizona is no surprise, the fact that it also passed in California, a liberal state, is proof that the vast majority of Americans regard marriage as a union between a man and woman.
Another cultural measure is racial preferences. The U.S. Supreme Court has struck down racial quotas as unconstitutional. In 2003, the Court also struck down a race-preference program that resembled a quota by giving extra points to the college applicants because of race. And in 2007, the Court also struck down a public-school districting program that made race a major factor in determining which school a student attends.
The American people have also rejected racial quotas at the ballot box. This year Nebraska easily passed a measure rendering preferences illegal. Such provisions are also the law in Michigan, Washington and even California. The fate of yet another state constitutional amendment in Colorado is unclear at the time of this writing.
Everyone should celebrate that quota schemes of any variety are clearly not needed in America. The fact that an African-American has been elected commander-in-chief of this country and will be leader of the free world shows that race is not an insurmountable obstacle to success in today’s America.
Minorities, in fact all Americans, should celebrate President-elect Obama’s “post-racial” vision for America. In this vision, there is no logical place for racial quotas or racial preference programs.
Racial preferences harm minorities. Quotas—the purest form of racial preference—often disadvantage the very people they are intended to help. They are originally intended as floors. If a school has a 20% African-American quota, then the school must have at least 20%. But studies show that the floor eventually becomes a ceiling. When the mandate is 20%, then institutions do not go above that number. Such institutions end up targeting that number, taking the best-qualified applicants from that minority pool, rejecting the rest. A 20% quota may secure 20%, but it bars the possibility of 30%, 40% or 50%, even if there are enough superbly-qualified applicants from that group to merit 50% of the available positions.
So not only are such preferential measures unconstitutional, they are also harmful. It bears out the wisdom of our constitutional scheme that this country must throw open the doors of opportunity to all, and not prefer one over another.
This will be a challenge for President-elect Obama when he nominates Supreme Court justices. He has promised to nominate liberal judges such as Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who has voted to uphold every racial-preference program reaching the Supreme Court. But the fact that he won the presidency and will now hold the power to appoint Supreme Court justices demonstrates that racial preferences are unnecessary.
Many challenges await President-elect Obama. One of those challenges will be how to represent the change Americans want when it comes to ending racial preferences.