Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Race matters.

little rock

Yesterday I posted a criticism of the Supreme Courts decision in Schuette v Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action.

A number of readers commented or emailed me to express their disagreement with the position I took.

This is a moment that I am glad to say that I stand with my union leaders – who not only opposed  the decision – but earlier filed a legal brief in defense of affirmative action in this case.

More needs to be done by our unions and all who believe in racial justice to stop this current roll-back of victories we thought we had already won in the Civil Rights Movement.

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s dissent on the Michigan affirmative action case should be read and studied by anyone who wants to understand the history of race, law and justice in America.

Start with this excerpt.

12-682 Schuette v. BAMN (04/22/2014)

Race matters. Race matters in part because of the long history of racial minorities’ being denied access to the political process. See Part I, supra; see also South Carolina v. Katzenbach, 383 U.S. 301, 309 (1966) (describing racial discrimination in voting as “an insidious and perva- sive evil which had been perpetuated in certain parts of our country through unremitting and ingenious defiance of the Constitution”). And although we have made great strides, “voting discrimination still exists; no one doubts that.” Shelby County, 570 U. S., at __ (slip op., at 2).

Race also matters because of persistent racial inequality in society—inequality that cannot be ignored and that has produced stark socioeconomic disparities. See Gratz, 539 U. S., at 298–300 (GINSBURG, J., dissenting) (cataloging the many ways in which “the effects of centuries of law- sanctioned inequality remain painfully evident in our communities and schools,” in areas like employment, poverty, access to health care, housing, consumer transac- tions, and education); Adarand, 515 U.S., at 273 (GINSBURG, J., dissenting) (recognizing that the “lingering effects” of discrimination, “reflective of a system of racial caste only recently ended, are evident in our workplaces, markets, and neighborhoods”).

And race matters for reasons that really are only skin deep, that cannot be discussed any other way, and that cannot be wished away. Race matters to a young man’s view of society when he spends his teenage years watching others tense up as he passes, no matter the neighborhood where he grew up. Race matters to a young woman’s sense of self when she states her hometown, and then is pressed, “No, where are you really from?”, regardless of how many generations her family has been in the country.

Race matters to a young person addressed by a stranger in a foreign language, which he does not understand because only English was spoken at home. Race matters because of the slights, the snickers, the silent judgments that reinforce that most crippling of thoughts: “I do not belong here.”

In my colleagues’ view, examining the racial impact of legislation only perpetuates racial discrimination. This refusal to accept the stark reality that race matters is regrettable. The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race, and to apply the Constitution with eyes open to the unfor- tunate effects of centuries of racial discrimination. As members of the judiciary tasked with intervening to carry out the guarantee of equal protection, we ought not sit back and wish away, rather than confront, the racial inequality that exists in our society. It is this view that works harm, by perpetuating the facile notion that what makes race matter is acknowledging the simple truth that race does matter.

Although the only constitutional rights at stake in this case are process-based rights, the substantive policy at issue is undeniably of some relevance to my colleagues. See ante, at 18 (plurality opinion) (suggesting that race- sensitive admissions policies have the “potential to be- come . . . the source of the very resentments and hostilities based on race that this Nation seeks to put behind it”).


4 thoughts on “Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Race matters.

  1. I was also surprised at some of the comments that were posted. That surprise was behind my post. It is hard to believe that we are moving that quickly backwards.

  2. Race matters indeed! It matters both ways, from the mom who believes her son’s school punishment was racially motivated (until she learn’s that the asst. Principal who assigned it was also black) through the folks who feel obligated to go out of there way to demonstrate they are unbiased. Will we ever become a racially blind society? Affirmative action has a positive role to play in that journey!

  3. I agree, race does matter and it is a shame that some of the justices in District Courts view Civil Rights as Historical.

    It turns your stomach when case law is used to ignore injustices that are balant, and obvious. As a milti ethmic and multi racial person, I know that this country could be way better if race were not an issue on every important matter such as housing, employment, lending, education. However, this is not the case. I know that the people of this great country do not mirror the apathy towards affirmative action, housing, employment, education for its Citizens, and Residents regardless of their race.

    There is a leadership problem, and a greater need to find sincere politicians, who cannot be brought out with ideas about people that simply don’t exist, except in their imaginations. It is only when they transform themeselves into a minority will they truely understand, and appreciate the courage, and the conflicts that people of color face as Americians, or as US Residents.

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