Interview with Robert Links

Now, can you give me a sense of how you think the public has misunderstood Bakke?


I think in a technical sense the public has misunderstood Bakke by saying, "Well that's the case that just says no quotas." It clearly did say that, but it's much, much deeper than that.The court was so badly divided I don't know that there was a clear ringing of the Constitutional bell, if you will. We do have, and this is something I think is very important. It's almost as if that decision is a prism through which we look at refracted light. We can see some thinking starting to evolve. It wasn't intended to be nor, at least by me, was it expected to be the final word on these questions. We knew it was going to be important and it was important. But it was a starting point because you see, until the Bakke case came along, America had been evolving, ah, in a way that I think historians can track. And you don't really even have to be a, an historian to track it. In 1954 when Brown vs. Board of Education was decided, which is I think for anybody who has studied and thought about Constitutional and American history, one of the great moments, not just in American life, it's one of the great moments in human history because it was a day when a nation looked itself in the eye and it said, "For too long we've kept people separated and that's all going to end." And it was a, it was a day that I think America really came into the 20th century in terms of human rights. And it wasn't an easy struggle. Anybody who thinks that the plaintiff's lawyers in the Brown case had it easy, anybody who thinks that is wrong. Those were courageous people who fought not just tremendous odds, they fought against violence, they fought against attacks on themselves and their families and their clients and their clients' families, and they achieved a great victory. It was the achievement of a moral principle that had been too long in coming. And a lot of people felt then that all we had to do was open the doors. Even if you look at the 1960s, a movement that I think moved all of us, everybody had a common goal. Just take the barriers down, and once we do that everything's going to be all right. When we got into the '70s, and I know this is a generalization, but I, I think it's pretty close to what happened. When we got into the '70s, everything got a little more complicated. Everything wasn't all right. We found that integration, however we define that term, wasn't moving as fast as we wanted it to move. And the question became "How can we advance this process along?" Well the easiest way to change the numerical disparity is to do it by the numbers, is to start a quota system and say, "We want to have 20 percent of a group in a certain profession or in a certain job, just hire people or let people in until you have 20 percent." That's pretty easy. And it's pretty fast, and it's pretty effective. And people I think started to do that and everybody would think, "Well it's a good thing, it's a good cause, we all want to correct the problems of the past." And then the issues started to get a little more difficult because whereas you might talk in an economic arena about jobs with an open-ended situation, you don't worry about the person who gets excluded, you figure there's enough room for everybody. But when you start taking these principles and these concepts and applying them to a fixed pool, say a medical school where you only have 100 places, if you let one person in because of race, you're keeping another person out]** because of race. And that's when the issue started to get framed. And once it got framed, we had a whole host of questions that leads us into some very, very thorny Constitutional thickets. And that's how we got to the Bakke case because it was right in the middle of that procedural and substantive sagebrush that we found ourselves. And, ah, there were some precedents to help us, but there were very few clear answers.