Race Quotas Divide Military, Bush

Ricardo Turner, CBS Evening News

The Supreme Court is expected to rule any day now in the biggest affirmative action case in a decade. And as CBS News Correspondent Wyatt Andrews reports, President Bush and the U.S. military are weighing in on opposite sides of the issue.

He was the student commander this year at West Point. First Captain Ricardo Turner, an African American from Detroit, will be the first to tell you his admission to the Academy was due to affirmative action.

Asked if he would have qualified for West Point right after high school, he replied, "Well I can answer frankly, right out of high school I did not qualify for West Point."

But the Army liked what it saw in Turner. He was recruited to the Academy prep school, where he raised his SAT's, enrolled in West Point and soared.

"I'm proud to be part of the army we live in today -- the army that will look at a person for more than numbers," he told Andrews.

His success comes as the Supreme Court decides the future of affirmative action. In a case from the University of Michigan, where extra points were given to minority applicants, and where numeric goals were set for the racial makeup of each class, the President called those policies quotas.

But tell that to West Point, where numeric targets by race are set at 10-12 percent black and 25 percent minority. West Point does not have to meet those targets, but the Army thinks because its rank and file exceeds 30 percent minority, a diverse officer corps is critical to military teamwork.

"Race matters, gender matters, in a very diverse Army and in a world where they are going to have to operate, who knows where," said Col. Michael Jones, West Point Director of Admissions.

It is on this very point the Bush Administration seems to have a conflict over affirmative action. How come numeric targets used to find minority students are unconstitutional at the University of Michigan, but essential at West Point?

The Administration argues that selection based on race harms a society built on merit. The military argues you can recruit using race, but then promote based on merit.

"No one is going to be here, admitted here, unless they meet the standard," said Turner. So if the school may find you at times by race, still "You have to make it," he said.

Finding the Ricardo Turners is really what is before the Supreme Court. Was some white candidate somewhere hurt by his selection or is America better off with now Lieutenant Turner in the U.S. Army?