Thursday, October 11, 2007

Airport Angst

Sky Harbor Diversity Study Shows Importance of Curbing Race and Gender Preferences

Sky Harbor International Airport recently announced it will conduct a "disparity study" to determine whether it should increase the percentage of disadvantaged businesses-those owned by women or designated minorities-holding vendor contracts at the airport.

Here's another idea: how about using a blind process to award concession contracts to the highest bidder? That would ensure equal opportunity while providing added revenues to the airport that could help offset the increased cost to travelers for security and other services.

But that wouldn't achieve the airport's goal, described by the study consultant as ensuring that concession owners "reflect the diversity of available vendors in the market." If that result doesn't happen through the normal process, the only way to achieve it is through race and gender preferences.

The airport acknowledges that the U.S. Constitution prohibits race-conscious measures unless they are "narrowly tailored" to redress discrimination. A disparity study does not prove discrimination, but it can provide a fig-leaf to justify preferential treatment.

The constitutional loophole, intended to be narrow, is often pried large enough to drive a Mack truck through. Which is why Ward Connerly, Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, and others are backing an initiative to absolutely prohibit race and gender discrimination in public employment, contracting, and education.

Race and gender are imperfect surrogates for actual disadvantage. To ensure truly equal opportunity, we must take race and gender preferences off the table.

Clint Bolick is the director of the Goldwater Institute's Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation.

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