Staying Out of Affirmative Action

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WASHINGTON, D.C.: As his Administration gears up for a high-profile initiative on how to improve race relations next week, President Clinton asked the Supreme Court to back off ruling on a closely watched affirmative action case his Administration once looked to reverse. When Clinton first took office, he had publicly sided with the decision of a New Jersey school district to retain black teacher Debra Williams over her equally qualified white colleague. That teacher, Sharon Taxman, filed a race-bias complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, arguing that it violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A lower court upheld her complaint. Government lawyers today acknowledged the reversal, but told justices that "this case, however, is not an appropriate vehicle for resolving that issue." The move comes only a week after Jesse Jackson sent a scalding three-page letter to Clinton attacking what he called the "shameful disrepair" of the Administration's progress on civil rights laws. Civil rights groups are already worrying that Clinton's race initiative will be long on self-promotion and short on results.