With a 6-2 vote on January 17, a reconstituted U.S. Commission on Civil Rights renounced the use of racial quotas for the promotions of blacks and other minorities, an action that unleashed a firestorm of criticism from liberals, who accused the Reagan administration and its appointees to the commission of trying to turn back the clock on civil rights. Proponents of the renunciation argued that quotas were reverse discrimination that created a new group of victims -- something that the original civil rights laws were never intended to do.
Vol. 123, No. 5, 30 January 1984
A Declaration of Independence
Conservatives change the course of a federal panel
For a brief moment last week it seemed that the members of the new Commission on Civil Rights might banish whatever bitterness they harbored from last year's skirmishes and stand together. The commissioners answered Democrat Walter Mondale and others who criticized them as puppets of the Reagan Administration with a blunt statement: "The commission belongs to no one...and will serve no political ideology or special interest. That is the meaning of our independence. It is uncompromisable."
That promising display of solidarity, however, was soon overshadowed by a blitz of controversial decisions and internal struggles. At a two-day session in Hunt Valley, Md., the new commission's conservative majority dominated the liberal members. By a 5-to-3 vote, the group decided to cancel an investigation of how cutbacks in student financial aid affected colleges where most students were black or Hispanic, and by a 6-to-2 vote, it came out against the Detroit police department's use of numerical quotas for the promotion of blacks to lieutenant.
The controversy over the commission first erupted last May, when President Reagan replaced three members with appointees who shared his opposition to racial quotas and busing....Two of the sacked members, Mary Frances Berry and Blandina Cardenas Ramirez, sued in federal court for an injunction forbidding their removal, arguing that the action violated the commission's legal status as an independent body. More than 30 Senators and 19 Representatives lined up to sponsor a bipartisan resolution to have commission members appointed by Congress rather than by the President. After much negotiating, a compromise was reached: the new Civil Rights Commission would have eight members, four to be appointed by the President and four by Congress. Berry and Ramirez retained their positions but the line-up resulted in a conservative majority.
Berry and Ramirez were the dissenters in the 6-to-2 vote that opposed the affirmative-action plan of the Detroit police department. The commission's statement deplored the use of quotas, saying that they created "a new class of victims" by denying equal rights to majority groups. Said Reagan Appointee Morris Abram, a prominent Democratic lawyer: "Nothing will ultimately divide a society more than this kind of reverse discrimination."
In a lively news conference at the end of the Hunt Valley meeting, Berry confronted Abram and Chairman Clarence Pendleton Jr., an earlier Reagan appointee who had been in a conservative minority on the old commission....Berry, who could hardly conceal her disdain for the chairman, said the commission "is no longer the conscience of America on civil rights" and added, "I despair for women and minorities in this country."
The commission, established under President Eisenhower in 1957, has no enforcement powers....Although the Supreme Court declined to review the Detroit case, there are two other similar suits pending. One concerns the New Orleans police department and the other the Memphis fire department; both involve hiring policies for minorities. The commissioners will no doubt continue their ideological battles when deciding what to recommend in these cases....
U.S. Civil Rights Panel Reverses Itself on Racial Quotas
Blacks' Economic Plight Worsens
The economic plight of blacks in America grew worse in 1983, the National Urban League reported Jan. 19 in the ninth annual assessment of the "State of Black America."
"The bald truth is that not only has the movement toward narrowing the socio-economic gap that separates black and white Americans come to a dead halt, [but] retrenchment has set in and blacks are actually retrogressing," the league reported.
The report condemned the Reagan administration and Congress. The administration, it said, was "almost universally regarded by blacks as the most hostile administration in the last 50 years."
And a "compliant Congress" had acquiesced "while the programs of the Great Society were torn asunder, while tax breaks were given to the rich, while billions of dollars were thrown at the Defense Department, and while programs of aid to the cities and the poor were decimated," it said.
The report urged black political involvement and said 1984 could be "a watershed" year. "The most important task that the black community will face in 1984," it said, "is to see to it that every eligible person is registered to vote." Currently, about 10 million of the 17 million eligible blacks were registered on voting rolls.
The data in the report was bleak:
Black unemployment as of December 1983 was 17.6%, more than twice that for whites and not far from the recession high of 20.6% registered earlier in the year.
"Hidden unemployment," or workers who were too discouraged to seek jobs and part-time workers who could not find full-time jobs, was 33% among blacks, also twice the comparable rate for whites.
35.6% of blacks were living in poverty in 1982 (the latest data available), with less income than the federally-defined poverty level. That was an increase from 34.2% the year earlier. Almost half of all blacks under age 18 were living in poverty, the league said.
The median black family income was $13,598 in 1982, compared with $24,593 for whites.
As of 1980, 42% of black families were headed by single mothers, up from 31% in 1970.
In presenting the report, League President John E. Jacob described the state of black America as "disastrous." "While white Americans celebrate a long-overdue economic recovery and a falling unemployment rate," he said, "black America is buried in a depression of crushing proportions.
Nashville, TN, 18 January 1984
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, recently reconstituted by the Congress, is busily dismantling the liberal policies of its predecessor and moving toward being the kind of panel the Reagan administrations wants.
The panel has approved a resolution declaring that affirmative action quotas create a "new class of victim" and merely constitute another form of unjustified discrimination.
....On Monday the panel voted to study the adverse effects of affirmative action, but not the consequences of President Reagan's budget cuts. And one of the most emotional debates came on a proposal by staff director Ms. Linda Chavez to cancel a study on the impact of Mr. Reagan's student financial aid cuts to predominantly minority colleges.
The study was approved by the previous commission, but the new panel voted 5 to 3 to cancel the study on the grounds that it was beyond the panel's authority.
....Almost from the first the administration has sought to backtrack on civil rights. It tried to weaken the Voting Rights Act. It balked at denying tax exempt status to schools that practice segregation. It has fired civil rights commissioners whose views were different from its own, including former GOP leader Mrs. Mary Louise Smith. That was taken by some senators as a violation of a commitment they received during negotiations on restructuring the commission.
From its initial actions the reconstituted commission doesn't intend to be a watchdog on civil rights violations but a blind and barkless lapdog whose views will tend to reflect those of President Reagan. In short, the majority of the membership seems to believe that racism and discrimination are on the wane and therefore a new perspective is needed about the whole matter. That is a course that will patently reverse the direction, scope and intent of the law creating the commission in the first place....
Miami, FL, 21 January 1984
Twenty years ago this month, President Lyndon B. Johnson and Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey were preoparing for the legislative battle that would culminate in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That bill put Federal enforcement teeth into principles embodied in the Fourteenth, Fifteenth, and Nineteenth Amendments to the Constitution.
On Tuesday the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Voted 6-2 to declare, in effect, that the American struggle for civil rights has been won. The commission reversed its approval of the use of quotas, social policies, and other techniques for redressing past discrimination. The commission thus signaled its belief that the Humphrey-Johnson effort has succeeded so completely that it now is both possible and desirable for Federal policy to become "color blind."
If its assumption were correct, the commission's conclusion would be merited. But it sought no testimony and offered no evidence whatever to bolster its contention that race, religion, national origin, and gender no longer handicap the educational and economic progress of millions of Americans.
Certainly there has been dramatic progress in 20 years. That progress fully justifies a re-examination of traditional civil-rights approaches. It no longer is fair to assume that every minority individual merits compensation for discrimination or that every white male starts life with a bias in his favor....The challenges of the '80s therefore are more complex. But there is no justification for the blind belief that a single generation of de jure equality actually has reversed centuries of de facto discrimination so that blacks now advance unfairly into top ranks. The white-male character of those top ranks testifies eloquently to that fact.
The Civil Rights Commission asserts that it intends now to focus only on a narrowly defined category of civil rights. It will avoid broader issues that it dismisses as "social policy." It thus turns its back on the entire national effort to reverse the effects of past discrimination through compensatory education, student loans, and other adjustments. And in specifically objecting to the quota system adopted for the Detroit Police Department, the commission rejects the idea that a large minority population has any right to be policed by a force whose composition reflects understanding of or sensitivity to its needs.
This abandonment of the field does not turn the clock back to 1963, of course. The "colored" signs will not reappear over the dime-store drinking fountains. And city commissions that answer to mixed populations are not likely to revert to all-white police forces.
But something truly has been lost in this reversal by the Civil Rights Commission. That body once was respected as the conscience of the Federal Government on minority matters....But the mantle of moral leadership now droops, empty, awaiting a new champion.
The News and Courier
Charleston, S.C., 25 January 1984
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights set a new course this month when it denounced affirmative action quotas in hiring and promotion as "unjustified discrimination" that creates a "new class of victims." From the screams of the liberal community, you'd think the commission had called for rescinding all the civil rights laws of the past 20 years. In fact, all the commission was saying to all levels of government is that they should reread the intent of those civil rights laws. The laws called for an end to discrimination saying it was wrong, period.
Affirmative action programs that establish quotas seem to have missed that point. Specifically, the commission asked the U.S. Supreme Court to rethink its recent ruling that left untouched an affirmative action plan for blacks in the Detroit police department. In that case, white policemen alleged they are the victims of discrimination when promotions from sergeant to lieutenant are being made alternately from lists of blacks and whites until 50 percent of the lieutenant corps is black.
What the commission quite correctly perceived is that the Detroit plan is squeezing white officers out of promotions, for which they are otherwise the best qualified, for no other reason than their race. That quite nicely fits the description of racial discrimination which, according to the commission, offends "the constitutional principles of equal protection of the law for all citizens."
It's about time "reverse discrimination" was recognized at high levels of government. The courts have been wishy-washy for too long on the issue of when affirmative action programs redressing the effects of past discrimination against minorities crosses over and begins discriminating against a majority in the here and now.
The makeup of the newly reconstituted commission is also heartening. The liberal activists who for so many years enthusiastically backed quotas, mandatory school busing and other questionable practices have been pushed out of the driver's seat. What we have now is a Civil Rights Commission composed of eight members chosen in equal numbers by the Congress and the administration who are impervious to political pressures from whatever direction. In the commission's own words, it "will remain independent of all outside wishes and pressures, whether they come from the White House or any other group."
So we are left with an independent-minded body that, at least judging from its first few decisions, may finally be ready to justify its existence.