Later this year, the Supreme Court will review the constitutionality of the use of racial preferences in college admissions in the case of Fisher v. University of Texas. The battle lines will once again be drawn over the meaning of the equal-protection provisions of the Constitution. So it’s noteworthy that Attorney General Eric Holder has just made it clear he’s never bumped into a racial preference he didn’t like, and that he sees no time limit on such policies.
Last month, in an appearance at Columbia University, his alma mater, Holder made a jarring statement in support of racial preferences, saying he “can’t actually imagine a time in which the need for more diversity would ever cease.” “Affirmative action has been an issue since segregation practices,” he declared. “The question is not when does it end, but when does it begin. . . . When do people of color truly get the benefits to which they are entitled?”
Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was the deciding vote in allowing racial preferences to continue, but she made it clear that their days should be numbered. She wrote: “We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today.”
In Eric Holder’s world, that day will never come.
Some say Holder has already been presiding over the most race-absorbed Justice Department in history. Career civil-rights attorneys such as former Voting Rights section chief Christopher Coates have resigned in disgust, citing the administration’s repeated refusal to apply civil-rights laws evenhandedly. In his book Injustice, former Justice Department attorney J. Christian Adams has documented with eyewitness accounts that then-deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights Julie Fernandes told Justice lawyers that the new administration was only interested in “traditional civil rights work,” which to her meant “helping minorities.” As she put it before her appointment: “The law was written to protect black people.” More recently, the Holder administration’s affirmative-action guidelines for colleges and universities, issued in December, are clearly intended to increase the use of race-preferential admissions policies. Could it be that Holder has not yet begun to fight?
Shortly before the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, Urban League executive director Whitney Young called for “a decade of discrimination in favor of Negro youth.” Congress clearly and unequivocally rejected that advice, opting instead for a complete ban on race discrimination in employment and at colleges, universities, and other institutions that accept federal funds. Nevertheless, Young got his way—and more. And more. Before the ink was dry on Title VII of the 1964 Act, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was making plans to pressure employers to hire more African-American employees. Within just a few years, colleges and universities were violating Title VI’s prohibition on race discrimination by substantially lowering their academic standards for African-American applicants. Young’s decade of discrimination in favor of African Americans had begun. That “decade” has now stretched into its sixth decade.
Here’s hoping that later this year the Supreme Court repairs its previous mistakes and, following Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s advice, draws the curtain shut on racial preferences, even if it is a little earlier than her own timetable—which has 16 more years to run.