New Approach to Race Discrimination

  • Public-Policy Reform
  • 1989

During the 1980s, scholars such as Thomas Sowell developed intellectual arguments against the racial preferences advocated by the civil-rights establishment. By the end of the decade, conservative foundations were ready to translate these new ideas into law and policy. In 1988, attorneys Michael Greve and Michael McDonald persuaded the Bradley, Olin, and Smith Richardson foundations to provide seed money to start the Center for Individual Rights, which filed suit against public universities over their use of racial quotas and preferences to shape their student bodies. The center won Hopwood v. Texas in federal court in 1996, marking the first victory against color-coded admissions. In 2003, a pair of CIR-driven cases involving the University of Michigan went to the Supreme Court, which accepted the constitutionality of race-based admissions for particular purposes, establishing a stalemate in use of racial preferences.

A range of donor-backed organizations now argues both in courts of law and in the court of public opinion for limits on race-conscious policies. The California Civil Rights Initiative, approved by California voters in 1996, banned the use of race in that state’s public employment, contracting, and college admissions. Ward Connerly of the American Civil Rights Institute led the campaign on its behalf, and later became involved in similarly successful efforts in Arizona, Michigan, Washington, and elsewhere. For other recent philanthropically supported cases see 2013 entry on “Supreme Assistance.”

  • Steven Teles, The Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement (Princeton University Press, 2008)