The nation's oldest civil rights organization yesterday declared what it called a "war" on attempts to weaken affirmative action programs in the aftermath of the Supreme Court's Bakke decision and urged President Carter to call a White House conference on the subject.
"This must be done without delay before a national misapprehension and deliberate distortion of the meaning of the Bakke decision takes hold," said Benjamin L. Hooks, executive director of the NAACP.
Carter, Hooks said in issuing what he termed a "Detroit manifesto," should give aggressive enforcement of affirmative action for minority groups "the same priority" that he has given strategic arms talks, Soviet dissident trials and tensions in Africa.
He made his statements at the close of a three-day NAACP symposium on the Bakke case attended by 300 representative of civil rights groups, organized labor, business, government and educational institutions.
Among the participants were many of the country's leading civil rights lawyers, such as Lane Kirkland, No. 2 in the AFL-CIO, U.S. Solicitor General Wade McCree, Arthur Flemming, chairman of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission and representatives of Pillsbury, General Motors, Control Data and the White House.
The sessions, NAACP General Counsel Nathaniel R. Jones said, were called to counter confusion over the decision and prevent a "psychological climate from arising" that would lead to cutbacks in programs that benefit minority groups in government and business.
In a decision that all sides regarded as an important test, the Supreme Court ruled June 28 that Allan P. Bakke, a white male who claimed he was the victim of "reverse discrimination," must be admitted to the University of California Medical School at Davis.
The court said affirmative action programs like the one used at the University of California at Davis are illegal. That program used race as its only criteria. But the court, at the same time, said that race could be one criterion in admissions, and so upheld the validity of most existing affirmative action programs.
The general tone of the meeting here was upbeat. Most civil rights lawyers who spoke agreed that the decision should not severely damage affirmative action programs. "It was a mixed bag," Hooks told a press conference here. "It was both victory and defeat."
But there was a strong undercurrent of dissatisfaction with President Carter for not talking a more forceful position on affirmative action since the decision, and a fear that Congress would enact legislation to trim back such programs.
A rider being offered by Rep. Robert S. Walker (R-Pa.) to the Health, Education and Welfare-Labor appropriations bill - came under repeated attack. It would curb use of racial quotas, ratios or any other numerical devices in remedying discrimination in higher education and employment financed with federal dollars.
The House approved a similar rider last year but it was defeated in the Senate.
In an emotional closing speech, Hooks urged the NAACP to "declare war on the attempts to weaken or destroy affirmative action and civil rights enforcement." He recommended a six-point program.It includes:
Monitoring affirmative action programs in all schools and universities.
Committing NAACP attorneys to catalogue cases where civil rights programs are under court attack and to file friend of court briefs when necessary.
Launching a major lobbying effort to counter unfavorable legislative efforts.
Urging business, labor and government leaders publicly to reaffirm commitments to affirmative action. He suggested business and union leaders take out newspaper ads to announce their support.
Hooks and other NAACP representatives praised a letter Carter sent last week to federal department heads instructing them to continue their affirmative action efforts, but they repeatedly made it clear that they think more drastic action is needed.
The NAACP executive board later endorsed Hooks' program. Other groups attending the session weren't given a chance to agree or disagree with it.
But a series of reports coming out of workshops held during the three-day symposium indicated Hooks' program had broad support.
William E. Pollard, AFL-CIO civil rights director, read a report from a labor workshop that indicated from labor support for most affirmative action programs, although he noted that some elements of organized labor feel that the programs should not tamper with union seniority rules.
In another matter, Hook defended U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young's recent controversial statements about political prisoners in the United States and said that President Carter should pay as much attention to the Wilmington 10 as he does to dissidents in the Soviet Union.
Hooks said that the round of criticism directed at Young indicates a double standard is applied to black officeholders. "Let me suggest no one was more inept or abrasive as a United Nations ambassador as Patrick Moynihan and he was never rebuked," Hooks said.