Sunday, November 15, 2020

Epstein on “The Civil Rights Juggernaut”

The following is excerpted from Richard A. Epstein, The Civil Rights Juggernaut, 2020 U. Ill. L. Rev. 1541, 1542–44 (2020).

[T]he expansions in the 1970s and early 1980s of the various provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 were done to advance the purpose of ending segregation and promoting integration. I continue to feel much uneasiness about these decisions, in part because they move away from the initial “colorblind” standard by creating preferences for protected classes and allowing affirmative action in their favor. But none of these cases, whatever their merits, had the effect of targeting small and isolated businesses and individuals for powerful government sanctions. Instead, the earlier string of successes were targeted to make sure that powerful groups did not themselves engage in various forms of invidious discrimination--here the word “invidious” is used to allow for affirmative action programs but only in favor of protected groups. Today, all too many civil rights commissions especially at the state level function only to pressure small businesses and individuals to conform to a powerful and overriding vision of the “right” view of the evils of discrimination across the board. The situation marks a powerful change from the landscape that existed at the start of the civil rights movement in 1938, when Justice Harlan Fiske Stone warned that lax standards of review would not be sufficient to protect what he termed in Carolene Products the “discrete and insular minorities” of today. Today those minority groups are in fact the dominant power-brokers on matters of civil rights, and their influence is all-pervasive, dealing not only with matters of race and sex discrimination, but also with freedom of speech and religion for groups that are not members of the dominant coalition.

It is important to understand that the pervasive modern references to “diversity and inclusion” are not renewed calls to heed the lesson of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who proclaimed that what matters is the content of one's character and not the color of one's skin. Nor do such references refer to reaching out to make sure that individuals from all groups and all walks of life are included in modern social discourse. Rather, it is evident from the constant insistence that diversity and inclusion are compelling state interests that any other concern, including freedom of speech and conscience, must take a subordinate place when pitted against them, if only so that people whose views do not fit this modern conception can be shouted down with the justification that their views are so odious that they do not require refutation. One general theme in this discourse is a strong distaste for capitalism and an embrace of controversial causes as though they embody eternal truths….

This creeping orthodoxy is not confined to any single subject matter. As is evident from the pronouncements of once great institutions like Harvard University and the University of California, that same authoritarian impulse now guarantees that the phrase “diversity and inclusion” is transformed into a commitment to establish, in both hiring and admissions, systematic preferences in favor of women and some minority groups, with the deliberate intention of reducing and marginalizing the position of those who do not share that common vision.

Thus, forty-seven years after Professor Baum's early death, both the agenda and the players in the civil rights movement are far different from what they were in those distant times. I often say to myself, virtually every day, that the news will contain some disturbing story about how it is that the civil rights movement has deviated from its original mission. In this lecture I shall talk about some of the cases that I think should give pause to the way in which we think about civil rights.

Stefan J. Padfield | Permalink


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