The fall of 1995 may be remembered as the time when the miscast and overheated melting pot cracked and spat its singed ingredients all over us. O.J. Simpson was freed, Mark Fuhrman convicted, and Louis Farrakhan lectured us “on the idea that undergirds the Western world, white supremacy.” But while O.J. walked, Colin Powell posed, and Louis the Charmer indicted white folks for “poisoning religion,” a less spectacular event in Boston exposed the quotidian bias and official lies through which the state now enforces its power.

Late in 1994, then 16-year-old Julia McLaughlin took the admission tests for Boston Latin, the city’s most prestigious high school. Julia did quite well, placing in the third quartile in her attempt to win one of the 432 spots in the school’s class of ’99. But, alas, Julia is white and had to step aside while Boston Latin filled its quota of 35 percent “minority” (black and Hispanic) students. One hundred and three of them who scored lower than Julia were admitted while she was turned away.

Such events have been a familiar feature of the last 20 years. Usually they disappear without a trace. But in this case there was a difference: Julia McLaughlin’s father, Michael, was an attorney with Lane, Altman & Owens. When he filed a discrimination suit against the city, veins started to bulge in the elite’s public face.

First up to the plate was the mayor, Tom Menino, who has blamed violence in Roxbury, Boston’s blackest section, on racism. Menino is adroit at pitching to the p.c. majorettes at the Boston Globe, the nation’s most militant enforcer of quota-state pieties. True to form, he tried to sweep the Boston Latin case under the carpet, offering to find an alternate place for Julia if McLaughlin père would drop the suit. For reasons which remain obscure, the compromise broke down, and everything was out in the open.

It’s an especially messy case for the liberal establishment because it confounds the usual categories of victims and villains. Julia is female, which puts her in the right, but she’s white, which is wrong. Worse still, her father, a white man and thus doubly bad, was challenging the quota plan that in 1976 had imposed busing on Boston after several years of bitter racial struggle. That, of course, was very good in the liberal catechism, even though it led to the depopulation and decay of many neighborhoods and the wrecking of most Boston schools. (Indeed, four years ago a large group of black parents petitioned the city to end busing.)

As usual, a p.c. rationale was offered by a Globe columnist who speculated that McLaughlin’s problem was bias against girls. It turns out that in order to assist minority youths, Boston Latin weights math scores on admission tests a tad more than verbal, at which most girls do marginally better. Therefore, said the Globe, we should not abolish but adjust the quotas to favor girls. To the chagrin of feminists, this theory was shot down by the legal counsel for Boston’s public schools, who admitted that “math scores would not have affected McLaughlin’s chances. The focus for this case,” he said, “is race-conscious assignment.” In English, that means quotas.

Not to be deterred, another Globe stalwart suggested choosing students via a racially based “group lottery.” Mercifully, no details were offered to indicate how such a plan would both avoid and retain quotas. Perhaps group lotteries will become part of Mr. Clinton’s plan to “mend, not end affirmative action.”

In the meantime, U.S. First District Judge Arthur Garrity, who handed down the busing and quota plans 20 years ago and then actively administered the schools until 1990, was appointed to hear McLaughlin’s suit. He astonished all parties by declaring, incorrectly, that his ruling did not mandate a fixed number of minority students, but only that Boston’s schools “not be resegregated.” That, of course, was precisely what happened in the aftermath of his busing command, which condemned the city to the nightmare of “controlled choice,” in which families and students, competent and otherwise, scramble for places in the handful of decent schools, all of them ruled by Garrity’s 35 percent quota. Every spring, Boston’s families play a bizarre game of musical chairs as students turned away by quota limits dash for the next best opening. Meanwhile, having demonstrated his moral superiority, Garrity relaxes in the leafy tranquillity of suburban Weston, the wealthiest community in the state.

But stammering in city hall and apologetics in the press were only the initial reactions to Michael McLaughlin’s effort to get justice for his daughter. A preliminary hearing last September 10 turned into a love feast between Garrity, liberal media, and activists who turned out to hear him praise Michael Alves and Charles Willie, the “marvelous masters” who had administered his quota plan. He acknowledged that “students of all races had suffered denial of preference” but nevertheless asserted that “the consequences of controlled choice have been excellent.” Still more astonishing was Garrity’s claim that “the School Department has more power in these matters than a federal court.” “These remarks,” a reporter deadpanned, “came as a surprise to parents and School Committee officials who fought him for more than a decade.”

But for all his self-serving revisions of history, Garrity didn’t entirely forget the business at hand, He denied McLaughlin’s motion to let Julia attend Latin High on an interim basis while the suit proceeds. “The harm to the plaintiff,” he declared grandly, “is less educational than psychological. A 12-year-old can bounce back. If she is successful, some day she can return in triumph.” Perhaps at a 10th or 25th class reunion. No one explained why, if the benefits of Latin are mainly “psychological,” so many students insist on attending. And if it is so important for blacks and Hispanics to attend Latin High that quotas must wedge their entry, why is it inconsequential for the Julia McLaughlins of the world? Addressing such questions has been beyond the court’s grasp since equal outcomes became its shibboleth.

Ten days later, in late September, as a kind of exclamation point, Michael McLaughlin was dismissed from Lane, Altman & Owens. The firm wrote out a dismissal agreement that McLaughlin was required to read to the media: it said he was let go for refusing to spin off the case to another attorney. Before he vanished from the papers, McLaughlin told me the situation had been “a typical case of p.c,” and, in fact, senior partner Donald Bloch had already let the truth slip out. One day before the official notice was read, Bloch was quoted as saying, “many partners were concerned that he [McLaughlin] was challenging affirmative action.”

Are things really so sensitive? They are when blacks are involved, and at Lane, Altman & Owens, high-profile blacks had become very much involved. On July 1, 1995, the firm, previously known as Lane, Altman, merged with that of Henry Owens, a well-known civil rights attorney and former chapter president of the Boston NAACP. Owens, with his new firm for all of seven weeks, reportedly was irate that McLaughlin had challenged the Garrity plan.

“He told me that my suit was a matter he would not tolerate,” McLaughlin told reporters. “Henry was upset that Michael was involved in an affirmative action matter,” Bloch acknowledged. “He felt that if a member of the firm was involved in a case like that, it would be unethical for him to comment on or litigate” affirmative action cases. “We felt betrayed by Michael,” added senior partner Robert Rosen. McLaughlin had to go. No one asked if he felt betrayed.

Since then the suit has disappeared from the media. While Judge Garrity studies the depositions and the backstage horsetrading grinds on, Julia McLaughlin attends Boston Academy. The School Committee has meanwhile admitted that absent the quota, Boston Latin High School would be 88 percent white and Asian and 12 percent black and Hispanic. But, so what? After all, it’s only a psychological inconvenience.