The Congressional Black Caucus yesterday warned President Carter that he will "discredit his presidency in the eyes of history" if he endorses a Justice Department brief that is expected to tell the Supreme Court that precise racial quotas violate the rights of whites.
The warning came as Carter reportedly said in a Cabinet meeting yesterday that he supports the general concept, contained in the brief, that racial quotas are unconstitutional. The brief will be filed in a landmark reverse-discrimination case before the Supreme Court.
The brief was prepared in the case of Allan Bakke, a white applicant rejected for admission to the University of California at Davis medical school. Bakke has alleged that a number of less-qualified blacks. Hispanics and Asian-Americans were admitted ahead of him under a special quota system.
Attorney General Griffin B. Bell said yesterday that Carter approved the "general concept" of the brief, but Bell refused to disclose its contents. He said he will announce the administration's position on the controversy today or Wednesday.
Rep. Parren J. Mitchell (D-Md.), caucus chairman, said he read one draft of the solicitor general's brief, and that if it is presented to the court in that form it will have a "horrendous impact on all affirmative-action programs and spill out into other areas" of human rights.
Some cabinet members, including Health, Education and Welfare Secretary Joseph A. Califano Jr. and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Patricia R. Harris, were said to have argued as much in what was described as a spirited Cabinet meeting yesterday.
Califano later said in a news conference that he believes universities should be encouraged to recruit qualified minority students, and that goals, or "benchmarks," should be permitted as long as they do not force the admission of unqualified persons.
While refusing to be drawn into a specific discussion of the Bakke case, Califano said he would "reject as inappropriate" the standard of presumptive unconstitutionality applied to the quota system by the California Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of Bakke. The U.S. Supreme Court is considering an appeal to that ruling.
According to caucus members, the 88-page proposed brief argues that any university admissions system that reserves a specific number of places for minority students should be held unconstitutional because it perpetuates unfairness rather than alleviates it.
The brief, the caucus argued, employs a "classic exmaple of legal over kill," including the contention that preferential treatment of minority students may stigmatine and stereotype its recipients.
"The briefs legal positions pronounce a death sentence for programs which use race or ethnicity to achieve integration or equality," the caucus declared in a position paper released yesterday in a stepped-up lobbying campaign against the proposed government brief.
Despite the harshness of their warning, the members of Congress said they were encouraged after a meeting yesterday with Solicitor General Wade McCree Jr.
While McCree declined to make any commitments Mitchell said, "We feel, based on this morning's discussions, there will be the changes we desire."
In response to a question, Mitchell said the caucus thinks the Justice Department brief will either have to support or reject the constitutionality of admission quotas, and that his feeling of encouragement that it will support it was derived from "mances and a general attitude - a climate" created by McCree.
"It would be exceedingly difficult for me to accept the proposition that the Justice Department will submit such a brief," Mitchell said, referring to the draft that clearly challenges racial quotas.
He said he believes there have been a dozen or more drafts of the administration's position, and that he does not know which one was studied by Carter over the weekend.
Justice Department officials emphasized that, in any case, McCree's brief will be offered only as a "friend of the court," and will not press for a decision one way or another in the specifics of the Bakke case.