Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said Friday that he wants the Senate to face off against the Bush administration in a brief to the Supreme Court that declares the body's support for the University of Michigan's race based admissions policy.
Daschle has asked the Senate legal counsel to write the brief, which would represent the entire body. The Senate is required to vote on such an action.
"By passing this resolution we can show with our actions, not just our words, that we truly believe in the importance of racial and ethnic diversity," Daschle said.
But Republican Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania said that he disagrees with the University of Michigan's admissions policy, which grants 20 points on a 150-point scale to blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans, giving them an edge in the evaluation system.
Students with 100 points are generally admitted to the university and its law school. Three white students have filed suit against the policy, arguing they were better qualified but that academically poorer students were admitted because of their race. The case has reached the Supreme Court.
"I do not believe the answer to that is by instituting something that discriminates in fact in the other way," Santorum said Friday. "I think the administration is moving in a positive direction and so I object" to the Daschle resolution.
The White House filed a brief with the court Thursday night saying it opposes that system and would prefer a race-neutral option.
Congressional Democrats were quick to attack the administration's filing at a civil rights forum Friday in which they proposed an agenda on civil rights for "21st century America."
"It raises an equal protection issue to say that all forms of diversity can be prompted except for racial diversity," said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich.
"Judging from the president's action of late, he is betting on the disparities in this country magically disappearing," said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.
While offering no solutions, the White House stood firm against racial quotas in student admissions.
"The president did not want to constitutionally proscribe one way or another except for the fact that it cannot and should not, in the president's judgment, be done through the use of quotas," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
Republicans are unlikely to challenge the president's brief, but the issue could prove sticky for some who would have to go on the record as opposing affirmative action.
The White House brief stopped short of saying that race can never be a criterion in admissions. The Supreme Court has not ruled on such an influential affirmative action case in more than a decade when it decided quotes are unconstitutional but race could be a factor in admissions policy. It could go further than that this time, banning race as a factor altogether.
The high court is set to hear arguments in March, a decision could come down this summer.
Fox News' Caroline Shively contributed to this report.