- Hon. Peter Kirsanow, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
On July 25, 2014, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its decision in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, on remand from the Supreme Court of the United States. In a 2-1 decision, the panel up the University of Texas' affirmative action policies, "persuaded by UT-Austin ... of its necessary use of race in a holistic process and the want of workable alternatives that would not require even greater use of race." Was this decision consistent with the Supreme Court's 7-1 decision in June 2013? What will happen going forward? Our expert will answer these and other questions for a live call-in audience.
Race-based affirmative action had been declining as a factor in university admissions even before the recent spate of related cases arrived at the Supreme Court. Since the mid-1990s, the percentage of four-year public colleges that consider racial or ethnic status in admissions has fallen from 60 percent to 35 percent. Only 45 percent of private colleges still explicitly consider race, with elite schools more likely to do so, although they too have retreated. Law school professor and civil rights activist Sheryll Cashin believes that this isn’t entirely bad news, because, as she argues, affirmative action as currently practiced does little to help disadvantaged people. The truly disadvantaged are not getting the quality schooling they need in part because backlash and wedge politics undermine any possibility for common-sense public policies. Using place instead of race in diversity programming, she writes, will better amend the structural disadvantages endured by many children of color, while enhancing the possibility that we might one day move past the racial resentment that affirmative action engenders. In Place, Not Race: A New Vision of Opportunity in America, Professor Cashin reimagines affirmative action and champions place-based policies, arguing that college applicants who have thrived despite exposure to neighborhood or school poverty are deserving of special consideration.
The Obama administration is widely perceived to be an avid proponent of racial preferences. As Attorney General Eric Holder said in 2012, “The question is not when does [affirmative action] end, but when does it begin.” Several landmark pieces of legislation that President Barack Obama has signed into law—primarily on other topics, such as the Dodd Frank Wall Street Consumer Protection and Reform Act and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act—have expanded racial preferences in federal hiring, contracting, and at regulated entities. The president has also issued multiple executive orders and related instructions that aggressively seek to expand the numbers of women and minorities in the federal workforce. The Obama administration’s response to Fisher v. University of Texas, 133 S. Ct. 2411 (2013), which directed courts to use strict scrutiny in analyzing whether admissions policies are narrowly tailored to achieve universities’ diversity goals, may be another such example. After Fisher, officials at the Departments of Education and Justice produced guidance documents that have been read to assure colleges and universities that they could continue using large racial preferences in student admissions. This panel will explore this proliferation of racial preferences and the likely effects of such policies. Among other things, panelists will discuss evidence that racial preferences in education do more harm than good to their intended beneficiaries, resulting in fewer under-represented minorities going on to high-status careers. The panel will also discuss efforts to protect women and minorities from ill-defined “harassment” as a means of maintaining diversity in the workplace and on campuses—and how these efforts may raise First Amendment concerns and create perverse incentives to discriminate against persons who are perceived as likely to view innocent or trivial workplace and campus interactions as harassment.
This panel on "Racial Preferences and Promoting Diversity: Are These Policies Taking Us in the Right Direction?" was part of a day-long conference on Civil Rights in the United States held on September 9, 2014, and co-sponsored by the Federalist Society's Civil Rights Practice Group, the Cato Institute, and the Heritage Foundation.
The Mayflower Hotel
Disparate impact liability—or holding an actor liable for actions that have a disproportionate effect (disparate impact) on a particular race, sex, national origin, or religion—was invented by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission during the Johnson administration as a strategy for stepping up the fight against employment discrimination. The Supreme Court eventually adopted this theory of liability in the employment context in the controversial case of Griggs v. Duke Power, 401 U.S. 424 (1971). Congress later incorporated it into the employment context in the Civil Rights Act of 1991. The Obama administration has eagerly embraced disparate impact liability: Administration officials have applied it to new areas, like housing, education and credit. Disturbingly to some, these officials have also arranged settlements in lawsuits headed to the Supreme Court that appeared likely to result in decisions limiting the doctrine’s reach. Because nearly every employment, education, housing, or lending policy has a disproportionate effect on some protected group, the recent growth of disparate impact means that virtually any such policy may be deemed illegal. Panelists will discuss whether and to what extent disparate impact’s metastasis thus threatens traditional principles of the rule of law and whether it is consistent with statutory law and the Constitution.
This panel on "Disparate Impact and the Rule of Law: Does Disparate Impact Liability Make Everything Illegal?" was part of a day-long conference on Civil Rights in the United States held on September 9, 2014, co-sponsored by the Federalist Society's Civil Rights Practice Group, the Cato Institute, and the Heritage Foundation.
The Mayflower Hotel