• Susannah Colt


It appears obvious that certain segments of society do not believe in rectifying centuries of racial exclusion. The hue and cry among white men like Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi) condemning the announcement by Joe Biden that he intends to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by the retirement of Justice Steven Breyer with the nomination of a Black woman is hypocritical and racist.

There have been 115 justices serving on the Supreme Court since its creation in 1789. 108 have been white men. Two have been Black men. Four have been white women. One has been a woman of Hispanic/Latina heritage. In other words, the Court has never reflected the diversity of this country in its entire history.

When Ronald Reagan faced a vacancy on the Supreme Court in 1981, he announced he would nominate a woman and that woman was Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court. When Donald Trump was faced with filling the vacancy left by the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, he announced he would nominate a woman and that woman was Amy Coney Barrett.

When Trump appointed Amy Coney Barrett, Sen. Wicker applauded the choice because he has four daughters who would have a role model to look up to as they ascended into adulthood (he obviously didn’t take into consideration that Barrett was likely going to reverse Roe v. Wade, which will also impact his daughters). Now Sen. Wicker is calling Biden’s announcement a case of “affirmative racial discrimination,” which is how the conservatives describe affirmative action.

Let’s face the truth – if Biden had merely said he was going to nominate a woman, based on history, Sen. Wicker would have found that acceptable, but because Biden stated he was going to nominate a Black woman, it was immediately determined to be unacceptable. Therefore, it can be clearly concluded that Wicker’s objection is based on race, which makes him a racist.

In response to Wicker’s comments, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) disagreed with Wicker saying that Biden’s announcement was not a case of affirmative action. The problem with Graham’s statement is he then went on to incorrectly define affirmative action when he said it was “picking someone not as well qualified for past wrongs.”

Affirmative action was first introduced by President Kennedy in 1961. Kennedy recognized the history of discrimination against the Black population in America and realized that it impacted the country’s standing around the world. He attempted to correct it with legislation and when that failed, he issued an Executive Order instructing federal contractors to take “affirmative action to ensure that applicants for employment are treated equally without regard to race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” It was the beginning of the creation of the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEOC) and ultimately paved the way to the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964.

The people that oppose affirmative action claim that it gives a leg up to those less qualified just because of the color of their skin or their sex. They claim people were given preferential treatment. In the case of employment, in seeking to achieve the goal of affirmative action, an employer is prohibited from hiring a person who does not have the qualifications needed to perform the job successfully. Affirmative action prevents discrimination; it does not cause it.

In its infancy, affirmative action was generally embraced. In 1970, President Nixon issued Order No. 4 authorizing flexible goals and timetables to correct “underutilization” of minorities by federal contractors and in 1971, Order No. 4 was revised to include women.

Even President Reagan in 1983 issued an Executive Order, which directed federal agencies with substantial procurement or grant making authority to develop a Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) development plan. When efforts were launched to repeal that executive order, defenders of affirmative action including Reagan administrative officials, members of Congress from both parties, civil rights organizations and corporate leaders rose up to defend it.

Eventually affirmative action came under attack when white people complained and sued universities and colleges who implemented affirmative action. Several cases have reached the Supreme Court. The last major case to be decided was in 2003 (Grutter vs. Bollinger), where the Court held that the University of Michigan’s use of race among other factors in law school admission was constitutional because the program furthered a compelling interest in obtaining “an education benefit that flows from student body diversity.” This precedent will be under review by the US Supreme Court, which recently accepted a case involving a race-based affirmative action program in college admissions. Considering the make-up of the Court, I am not hopeful for its future.

If anyone has any doubts as to whether Biden’s nominee will be qualified for the position, I can assure you she will be. In fact, I am certain she will be as qualified, if not more qualified, than some of the current members of the Supreme Court. A Black woman who has achieved greatness in her profession is perceived as a threat and that is another reason this nomination is being challenged.

Whether you call what Biden has done in deciding to nominate a Black woman as affirmative action or a conscious decision to include a person who has never been represented, the outcome is the same – centuries of racial exclusion will begin to be repaired with the hope that complete racial parity will eventually be achieved. That is good for America and Democracy.

Joe Biden has made the greatest strides in his short time as president to fill his cabinet, court vacancies, U.S. Attorneys General offices, and the White House staff with women and people of color and I applaud his accomplishments. Now the Supreme Court will finally look a little bit more like America as well.

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