[Northwest Austin Utility District v. Holder] challenges Congress's reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act in 2006... But... Congress didn't engage in a serious empirical comparison of voting patterns in the areas of the country that are and aren't covered by the Voting Rights Act. The civil rights establishment was intent on preserving the status quo, which has led to the election of some African Americans in the South at the expense of the Democratic party as a whole; and ... neither Republicans nor Democrats were willing to acknowledge the evidence suggesting that discriminatory barriers to ballot access today, unlike the '60s, seem to be very rare....I added the boldface.
[Ricci v. DeStefano is] the most controversial affirmative action case of the term, involving the promotion of firefighters in New Haven. In 2003, the city administered a promotion test. The test was validated by independent experts, as federal law requires, to ensure that it focused on job-related skills rather than purely cognitive ones. But, after the test was administered, none of the top-scoring candidates for 15 positions turned out to be African American. (Fourteen were white, and one was Hispanic.) ... [T]he city refused to certify the exam and promoted no one. The city was then sued by 19 white firefighters (and one Hispanic) led by Frank Ricci, a sympathetic 34-year-old white man. Ricci, who is dyslexic, spent more than $1,000 buying the study guides recommended by the city and paying an acquaintance to record them as audiotapes, which he listened to as he drove to and from work.
The Ricci case is a nightmare for moderate liberal supporters of affirmative action, because it presents the least sympathetic facts imaginable. The Supreme Court has said repeatedly that affirmative action is most troubling when its burdens are concentrated on a few innocent white people rather than being widely dispersed among a large group of white and black applicants....
If the Supreme Court strikes down part of the Voting Rights Act and the New Haven affirmative action program, [it] would force Obama to articulate a moderate, middle-of-the-road position on race that is rooted in empirical evidence rather than ideology....
With all the other problems facing the country--from the economy to the war on terrorism--Obama has no incentive to take on liberal racialists who believe we've made little progress on race since the 1960s or conservative color-blind partisans who insist that anti-discrimination laws are no longer necessary. But everything in Obama's background suggests that he has the inclination and ability to help the country transcend the extremes that have defined our racial politics for too long.
April 22, 2009
Jeffrey Rosen on the two important race cases that will be argued in the Supreme Court in the next few days.
Northwest Austin Utility District v. Holder and Ricci v. DeStefano: