United States News

Race in 2028

By ROSS DOUTHATPublished: July 19, 2009

During last week’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings, Republican senators kept bringing the conversation back to 2001 — the year when Sonia Sotomayor delivered the most famous version of her line about how a “wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences” might outshine a white male judge.

It was left to a Democratic senator, Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, to ask about the much more interesting year of 2028.

By then, according to recent Supreme Court jurisprudence, some kinds of affirmative action may no longer be permissible. In 2003, writing for the majority in Grutter v. Bollinger, Sandra Day O’Connor upheld race-based discrimination in college admissions ... but only for the current generation. Such policies “must be limited in time,” she wrote, adding that “the Court expects that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today.”

It was a characteristic O’Connor move: unmoored from any high constitutional principle but not without a certain political shrewdness. In a nation that aspires to colorblindness, her opinion acknowledged, affirmative action can only be justified if it comes with a statute of limitations. Allowing reverse discrimination in the wake of segregation is one thing. Discriminating in the name of diversity indefinitely is quite another.

It’s doubtful, though, that Sonia Sotomayor shares this view.

“It is firmly my hope, as it was expressed by Justice O’Connor,” she told Senator Kohl, “that in 25 years, race in our society won’t be needed to be considered in any situation.”

But O’Connor didn’t hope; she expected. And Sotomayor’s record suggests that there’s a considerable difference between these postures — that for the nominee, as for most liberal jurists, as long as racial disparities persist, so too must racial preferences.

This is the big question underlying both the “wise Latina” contretemps and the controversy surrounding Sotomayor’s role in Ricci v. DeStefano. Whither affirmative action in an age of America’s first black president? Will it be gradually phased out, as the Supreme Court’s conservatives seem to prefer? Or will it endure well into this century and beyond?

To affirmative action’s defenders, Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings have been an advertisement for the latter course. Here you have a Hispanic woman being grilled by a collection of senators who embody, quite literally, the white male power structure. Her chief Republican interlocutor, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, even has a history of racially charged remarks.

But the senators are yesterday’s men. The America of Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III is swiftly giving way to the America of Sonia Maria Sotomayor and Barack Hussein Obama.

The nation’s largest states, Texas and California, already have “minority” majorities. By 2023, if current demographic trends continue, nonwhites — black, Hispanic and Asian — will constitute a majority of Americans under 18. By 2042, they’ll constitute a national majority. As Hua Hsu noted earlier this year in The Atlantic, “every child born in the United States from here on out will belong to the first post-white generation.”

As this generation rises, race-based discrimination needs to go. The explicit scale-tipping in college admissions should give way to class-based affirmative action; the de facto racial preferences required of employers by anti-discrimination law should disappear.

A system designed to ensure the advancement of minorities will tend toward corruption if it persists for generations, even after the minorities have become a majority. If affirmative action exists in the America of 2028, it will be as a spoils system for the already-successful, a patronage machine for politicians — and a source of permanent grievance among America’s shrinking white population.

You can see this landscape taking shape in academia, where the quest for diversity is already as likely to benefit the children of high-achieving recent immigrants as the descendants of slaves. You can see it in the backroom dealing revealed by Ricci v. DeStefano, where the original decision to deny promotions to white firefighters was heavily influenced by a local African-American “kingmaker” with a direct line to New Haven’s mayor. You can hear it in the resentments gathering on the rightward reaches of the talk-radio dial.

And you can see the outlines of a different, better future in the closing passages of Barack Obama’s recent address to the N.A.A.C.P., in which the president presented an insistent vision of black America as the master of its own fate.

Affirmative action has always been understandable, but never ideal. It congratulates its practitioners on their virtue, condescends to its beneficiaries, and corrodes the racial attitudes of its victims.

All of this could be defended as a temporary experiment. But if affirmative action persists far into the American future, that experiment will have failed — and we will all have been corrupted by it.

*Posted in NY Times

NATIONAL BRIEFING | WEST; California: New Effort Against Race-Blind Admissions

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESSPublished: February 17, 2010

By Any Means Necessary, an affirmative action group, is renewing efforts to overturn the state law that prohibits public universities from considering race in admissions. The group filed a class-action lawsuit on Tuesday in federal court in Oakland, challenging the constitutionality of a ballot measure approved by California voters in 1996. Both a federal appeals court and the California Supreme Court have rebuffed earlier challenges to the law, Proposition 209. The complaint says two United States Supreme Court rulings in affirmative action cases since those earlier decisions warrant another effort to invalidate the part of Proposition 209 that deals with university admissions.

Arizona Bans Affirmative Action, Oklahoma Makes English The ‘Official’ Language

In an interview with NPR on Election Day, Pamela Prah of Stateline.org expressed surprise that there were no immigration ballot measures this election season. Given the tenor of the debate, I too would’ve expected a series of anti-immigrant initiatives on several state ballots. However, there were at least two ballot initiatives that are still very much a manifestation of nativist sentiment. One, a proposal in Arizona banning affirmative action and another ballot initiative in Oklahoma which makes English the “official” language of the state. Though neither has a direct effect on immigration policy itself, the passage of both initiatives presents serious implications for the immigrant and Latino communities. On Tuesday, Arizona approved Proposition 107 “banning the consideration of race, ethnicity or gender by units of state government, including public colleges and universities.” Prop. 107 was spearheaded by the American Civil Rights Committee (ACRC), a Sacramento, California political action committee connected to Ward Connerly that funneled thousands of dollars into Arizona this year. ACRC is described by one Asian political blogger as a group “whose members have spent the last two decades traveling from state to state trying to enact harmful, discriminatory laws under the guise of equality.” Unsurprisingly, state Sen. Russell Pearce (R-AZ), the lawmaker who introduced SB-1070 and was “chief promoter” of a separate bill banning ethnic studies, was one of the main figures pushing the anti-affirmative action ballot initiative. He was even featured in radio ads endorsing the measure.

Opponents included Jeffrey F. Milem, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the University of Arizona, who argued that Prop. 107 arguments “are purposefully misleading” and that the initiative itself is “in direct conflict” with previous Supreme Court decisions. Joe Thomas, vice president of the Arizona Education Association, wrote that Prop. 107 “is an anti-equal-opportunity measure.”

Meanwhile, in Oklahoma, voters approved a ballot initiative — Question 751 — which declares English the “official language” of the state. Several states have passed similar legislation, though they tend to vary in their severity. For example, Virginia’s “official language” law stipulates that no state agency or local government shall be required nor prohibited from providing “official” documents in a language other than English. However, Question 751 goes a step further and “requires that official State actions be in English.” “Official state actions” are not defined. Rep. Randy Terrill (R) is one of the legislative members who authored the question’s language — the same lawmaker who told the Associated Press that he “may even take Arizona’s example further and include assets seizure provisions and harsher penalties” for undocumented immigrants. On Question 751, Terrill explains, “What was really the straw that broke the camel’s back was essentially a lawsuit that was prompted against the State of Oklahoma by an Iranian couple in Bartlesville who complained to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration because of our refusal to give them a drivers license test in Farsi.”

Proponents of Question 751 claim that it promotes immigrant integration, however, most experts note that if that were really their goal they’d dedicate more resources to ESL programs. Pat Fennell with the Latino Comm. Development Agency argued, “Instead of passing that kind of legislation, we need to create windows of opportunity while people are learning English.” University of Tulsa professor and attorney, James C. Thomas believes it’s unconstitutional. “It violated the free speech clause. The Supreme Court of Oklahoma in 2002 has already ruled that English only is unconstitutional. Why does the legislature now come back in 2010 and resurrect this issue?” said Thomas.

The language of both ballot initiatives was very carefully crafted. Whether they pass legal muster remains to be seen. What is clear that they were pushed by many of the same actors who have been aggressively pursuing harsh immigration measures throughout the years. Ultimately, it seems likely that these ballot measures are part of a multi-pronged strategy to promote a broader pro-white, anti-minority, anti-multiculturalist right-wing agenda.

*Posted in Think Progress: The Wonk Room