Two old friends of the civil rights movement clashed sharply Wednesday night over the Allen Bakke reverse discrimination case arguing that the issue involved a choice between abandonment of the civil rights struggle or suspension of constitutional rights.
"Equal justice and equal protection cannot exist in a society that discriminates. If you discriminate in favor of someone, you discriminate agaisnt someone else." argued Meyer Eisenberg chairman of the National Law Committee of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith.
"The question before this nation is whether we stop now, whether we say to the excluded. 'We've changed the law so that you are equal, now we're going to forget about you,'" said civil rights lawyer Joseph L. Rauh Jr.
Eisenberg and Rauh, both of whom have a long history of pro-civil rights activism debated before abut 300 people at Temple Sinai on Military Road in Northwest Washington.
The core of the issue in the case, they said, is whether it is constitutional to consider race as a determining factor in the selective and competitive process of academic admissions.
"I believe that among qualified people, preference should be given those who have been discriminated against in the past," said Rauh. "There is a Jewish paranoia against quotas. When I was trying to get into college, there was a quota on the number of Jews but that was different. It was a ceiling."
"There are many factors that a medical school can take into account in admitting students. Nobody's contending that you go completely on averages. All we are saying is that the basis for admissions cannot be racial," said Eisenberg.
"The 14th Amendment says that racial discrimination by the government or by a state is unconstitutional. Do you want to suspend it to make some people more equal?"
Bakke is a white applicant who was rejected for admission to the medical school of the University of California at Davis. He contended a lawsuit that less qualified minority students, including blacks. Hispanies and Asian Americans, were admitted ahead of him under a special quota system.