France Says Non to Affirmative Action: Will the U.S. Do the Same?

July 20, 2009

Elizabeth K. Dorminey

After devoting a half-century to devising (new) justifications for differential treatment of citizens on the basis of race, the Supreme Court appears, at last, to be edging towards a plainer meaning of the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause: one that would prohibit the practice. At the same time, on the other side of the Atlantic, French President Nicolas Sarkozy commissioned a study group to determine whether France’s Constitution could (or should) be altered to permit “positive discrimination” (as “affirmative action” is rendered in French) to address that country’s social inequities. Simone Veil, a highly respected member of the Académie Française, former President of the European Parliament, and member of France’s Constitutional Council, was selected for this task, and in December 2008 declared that any such change would be fundamentally incompatible with France’s core values of liberté, égalité, and fraternité. With its recent decision in a case brought by white fi refi ghters in New Haven, Connecticut, who alleged that they were denied promotions after passing a test that was scrapped because very few minority candidates achieved passing grades, the Supreme Court has moved a step closer—but not all the way—to declaring that differential treatment on the basis of race is unconstitutional...

France says Non to Affirmative Action: Will the U.S. Do the Same?