Holder swipes at Roberts on race
By JOSH GERSTEIN |
5/17/14 9:07 PM EDT
Attorney General Eric Holder took a swipe Saturday at Chief Justice John Roberts's jurisprudence on the issue of race, arguing that forcing the government to be entirely color-blind isn't the way to heal America's racial ills.
Speaking at commencement exercises for historically-black Morgan State University in Baltimore, Holder alluded to high-profile controversies over racial comments by figured like rancher Clive Bundy and L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling, but said that it's a mistake to think that America's most serious racial problems stem from repugnant public statements. The attorney general argued that it's more important to end policies that perpetuate racial differences than to dwell on occasional spurts of racist rhetoric.
"Chief Justice John Roberts has argued that the path to ending racial discrimination is to give less consideration to the issue of race altogether. This presupposes that racial discrimination is at a sufficiently low ebb that it doesn’t need to be actively confronted. In its most obvious forms, it might be. But discrimination does not always come in the form of a hateful epithet or a Jim Crow-like statute," Holder declared. "And so we must continue to take account of racial inequality, especially in its less obvious forms, and actively discuss ways to combat it."
Holder was referring to Roberts's plurality opinion in 2007 case which overturned the Seattle public school system's use of race to improve diversity. "The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race," the chief justice wrote.
The attorney general made clear again Saturday that he prefers the formulation Justice Sonia Sotomayor offered in her dissent from a Supreme Court ruling last month on Michigan's affirmative action ban.
"We must not 'wish away, rather than confront, the racial inequality that exists in our society. …The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race," Holder said, quoting Sotomayor rephrasing Roberts.
On the issue of racist talk versus policies with a disparate racial impact, the attorney general told the Morgan State graduates: "Policies that disenfranchise specific groups are more pernicious than hateful rants. Proposals that feed uncertainty, question the desire of a people to work, and relegate particular Americans to economic despair are more malignant than intolerant public statements, no matter how many eyebrows the outbursts might raise. And a criminal justice system that treats groups of people differently–and punishes them unequally–has a much more negative impact than misguided words that we can reject out of hand."