Melissa Harris-Perry, 1/25/13, 7:00 PM ET

Dear John Roberts: Ending affirmative action makes our country less secure

Melissa Harris-Perry makes an argument to Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts as he considers a challenge to the affirmative action program at the...

Why ending affirmative action makes America less secure

Updated

Before Brown versus the Board of Education, before the 1964 Civil Rights Act, there was Executive Order 9981. President Truman’s 1948 directive banned discrimination against military personnel on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin. It was considered the first major blow to segregation.

It is a surprising historical truth that the U.S. military, despised as an engine of war by many progressives, has been a leading institution in America’s fight for racial equality. And because the opinions of military leaders carry great weight with many Americans, I thought I would remind one American in particular, just where the military stands on a decision he will be making very soon.

My letter this week is to Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts as he considers a challenge to the affirmative action program at the University of Texas.

Dear Chief Justice Roberts,

It’s me, Melissa.

Remember last June, when you were the deciding vote in the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act? Yeah–that was a pretty cool way to ensure your legacy. It gave me faith that despite your ideologically derived positions and willingness to overturn established precedent, you just might be open to reasonable, evidence based arguments about what is good for our country.

Which is why I now draw your attention to the affirmative action case before you–Fisher v. University of Texas–the one that challenges the practice of including a race based factor in the college admission process.

Now you’ve made your thoughts on affirmative action known before–most notably in 2007 when you wrote that “the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” Mr. Chief Justice, you know better. It is not that simple. Racial bias is both pervasive and deeply entrenched. But we are not helpless, we know how to address it. And one of the best examples of how to do so is on your desk right now.

Right there, under that picture of you swearing in President Obama, twice, yep, there it is, the friend-of-the-court brief filed by a who’s-who of retired military generals and admirals including three former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs.

The first thing you will notice, Mr. Roberts, is that affirmative action works!

According to their brief, between 1967 and 1991, as a result of an aggressive policy of affirmative action, the Pentagon nearly quadrupled minority representation among its commissioned officers. Compared to the private sector where less than 2% of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are African American, the U.S. Army can boast that 8% of active duty officers are black. But the success of military affirmative action isn’t just cosmetic. It is critical. Mission-critical.

The brief points out that any ruling in the University of Texas case could have an impact beyond academia–and that without affirmative action–the military could struggle to develop a diverse officer corps, saying “a highly qualified and racially diverse officer corps is not a lofty ideal. It is a mission-critical national security interest.” Mr. Chief Justice, 27 United States military generals and admirals are trying to tell you something essential about affirmative action–it makes us safer.

And one of the keys to a diverse military leadership? The college ROTC programs, including the one at the University of Texas, where the military turns to find future officers. Now I may have my criticisms of campus based ROTC programs, but if we are going to draw our officer corps from our colleges, then we have to make sure our colleges look like our country.

So Chief Justice Roberts–when you consider your decision in the pending case of Fisher v. University of Texas, please listen to the generals and admirals with more than 1,200 years of combined service who are tying to tell you something very important: if you end affirmative action, you are making our country less secure.

Surely that’s not what you want your legacy to be.

Sincerely,

Melissa

Why ending affirmative action makes America less secure

Updated