Ricci and the Courts Race Neutral Desires

>> Wednesday, July 1, 2009

By now im sure those who read this are well aware that the SCOTUS reversed the lower courts decision in Ricci v. DeStefano. The Ricci decision couldnt have been all that surprising given the result of the Seattle Schools Cases. Its clear that at this point in time a majority of the court is of the belief that racism has been largely solved in this country, at least as it pertains to overt acts of discrimination in employment. Ricci sits squarely at the center of the conservative view that race conscious measures are simply not acceptable.

Justice Kennedy's majority opinion holds that an employer may not use race-conscious measures to try to avoid "disparate impact" liability under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act unless it "can demonstrate a strong basis in evidence that, had it not taken the action, it would have been liable under the disparate-impact statute." cite link

The problem of course is deciding what "a strong bases in evidence means". The Court shifts the traditional burden from one on employers to show they weren't discriminatory to a new burden on those who fear disparate impact suits to explain why the disparate impact arose. Marcia McCormick, who blogs at Workplace Prof Blog explains

The majority’s legal analysis starts from this premise: The City chose not to certify the examination results because of the statistical disparity based on race, and that this was express race based decision making which Title VII prohibits. Considering the race-based effects of the testing and rejecting the test on that ground was taking an adverse action because of an individual’s race. . . .

As a doctrinal matter, I think that the initial premise is troubling. To say that concern over the possibility of a discriminatory effect is itself a discriminatory motive seems to create a terrible theory of discrimination, a moral equivalence, that automatically pits groups against one another in competition for jobs. It’s also an implicit rejection of the basis for the Court’s early decisions on Title VII, that discrimination in employment was common, that absent some other good explanation for an adverse action, discrimination was a reasonable explanation for it, and that without incentives, employers would not have to look critically at what was really required to perform a job and whether this individual could do that. Instead, they could rely on old proxies for fitness without examining them critically. Now it seems that the Court is concluding that discrimination is rare and assertions of discrimination are suspect, and that the continued lack of attainment by people of color (and women, likely) is because of limitations in those people, not obstacles in the system. (emphasis added)

This is a very old fight. The question of whether the problem between races in our society is in the people or structural. Liberals find the problem to be structural, poor education, lack of a nurturing environment etc. The difference is that the conservatives now have a majority of the Court. The conservatives now have the ability to impress the ideology -- the theory of race -- that they hold onto reality. As much as i would love to believe that we are beyond race and that everyone has an equal start at this point in time that is simply not the case.

The failure to accept that there are structural inequities that have created minority underclasses and that creating this underclass is a negative for America is problem. Conservatives have a view that everyone operates as individuals and that the creation of the poor minority underclass has no effect on them or their lives or the greater future of America. This clearly isnt true.

Simply put, to maximize the potential of the American population we cannot allow a permanent poor minority underclass. Its a waste of talent and resources. As a country we need doctors, nurses, scientists etc and we need more and more brain power to compete in a global economy. What sense does it make to restrict actions in such a way as to prevent us from closing achievement gaps and increasing equality in our society?

I would prefer to carry out most of affirmative actionesque policies on an economic basis but its not always going to be convenient or helpful to do so. Cases of employment discrimination where minorities arent able to advance because of ostensibly neutral tests that create disparate impacts are such instances. If you have a test that consistently allows white people to advance over minorities by huge margins there are only a couple of possibilities for this. One is that the white people are simply better for that job. another is that there is something in the test that is advantaging whites. If whites were consistently better for the job wouldnt we need to specifically target the minorities to rectify what was making them so much worse on the test? Conservative reasoning about race conscious policy would seem to suggest that we cant. We should continue to let the minorities fail to advance and the whites to succeed and that no problems come from this. The SCOTUS probably agrees with that right now.


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