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Tue12122017

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Cooper Quotas

North Carolina governor Roy Cooper (D) announced last week a statewide goal of 10 percent for government contracting with minority-owned firms (defined by race, ethnicity, sex, and disability). He’s not alone with such nonsense; indeed, New York governor Andrew Cuomo (D) has set a goal of 30 percent in his state.

Now, it’s good to make sure public contracting programs are open to all, that bidding opportunities are widely publicized beforehand, and that no one gets discriminated against because of skin color, national origin, or sex. But that means no preferences because of skin color, etc. either — whether it’s labeled a “set-aside,” a “quota,” or a “goal,” since they all end up amounting to the same thing, and courts have ruled all to be presumptively unconstitutional.

Such discrimination is unfair and divisive; it breeds corruption and otherwise costs the taxpayers and businesses money to award a contract to someone other than the lowest bidder; and as noted it’s almost always illegal — indeed, unconstitutional — to boot.

On the legal point, there are two problems here. First, before the state can use racial classifications, it must at a minimum do a “disparity study” that documents evidence of discrimination in a specific contracting area that has to be remedied. Governor Cooper gets the process backward: He sets the racial goal, and then says it can be adjusted if some disparity study comes along that proves it’s too high.

Second, and in any event, in 2017 there’s no reason why quotas are the “narrowly tailored” way to remedy any discrimination. Rather, the state should ban racially preferential treatment for any group, enforce that ban, and require plenty of transparency — in publicizing bidding opportunities and in announcing the winners — to avoid cheating.

Contracts are not like employment selection or university admissions, where there is often an irreducible and significant amount of subjectivity in the decisionmaking. Rather, the low-bid process in government contracting can be made very transparent at every step, and this transparency should make it relatively easy to achieve any remedial purpose, that is, to detect and correct discrimination. This is an area where, as Chief Justice Roberts wrote famously, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”

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Heroic Book Review --  I’d like to add my voice to the chorus praising Scalia Speaks:  Reflections on Law, Faith, and Life Well Lived, the recent compendium of speeches given by the late, great justice. In doing so, let me offer a couple of points that I’ve not seen made elsewhere.

First, because this is book is not only entertaining and thoughtful but also accessible to nonlawyers — the speeches are divided into six categories, only one of which is “On Law” — it’s a good way for us conservative lawyers to show our laymen friends the reason we loved Justice Scalia as we did. This sort of enthusiasm is not always easy to explain without eyes glazing over; to outsiders, I suspect, the Federalist Society annual meeting must seem like Sesame Street’s “National Association of W Lovers,” where W stands for Scalia. Anyway, I’m giving a copy to my parents as a Christmas present.

Second, the insights are as fresh as today’s newspaper. Case in point: The day I finished the book some columnist criticized on separation of powers grounds those politicians who attack judges; well, Justice Scalia explains more than once in this book that, when judges act as politicians, their being treated as such is not only inevitable but even desirable, if the only alternative is to accept their rule as that of a new aristocracy.

Now, it is common knowledge that one of the book’s editors, Ed Whelan, is a good friend, so to show that I am not in the tank, let me note: (1) the editors are not perfect, and I did find one typo in the book (on page 310, the failure to capitalize the last word in “Grand Army of the republic”); (2) Justice Scalia should have credited Emil Faber rather than simply plagiarizing the latter’s trenchant observation, “Knowledge is good” (page 328); and (3) it was unconscionable for my hero Justice Scalia to characterize, albeit indirectly, William F. Buckley Jr., another hero of mine, as “one smart-aleck political commentator” (page 329).

Still, all is forgiven since I now know that Justice Scalia, proud Italian-American Catholic though he was, was also apparently a fan of the Irish-British Protestant and a third hero of mine, C.S. Lewis. The justice pays him this fine compliment: “Had he been a lawyer, C.S. Lewis would have been a magnificent legal writer.” And had he had the chance to read what Justice Scalia has to say “On Faith,” I’m sure Mr. Lewis would have found some way to return the compliment.

A fine book!

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A First-Rate Article on the Second Amendment – In light of the horrible shootings near San Antonio over the weekend, I’d like to commend to our readers this article by Professor Nelson Lund. It’s a thorough discussion of a recent gun-control column in the New York Times by Bret Stephens. It’s worth reading not only as a response to Mr. Stephens, but for its broader defense of the right to bear arms, and no one knows more about the Second Amendment than Professor Lund.

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The Washington Post Doesn’t Get It – The Washington Post this week devoted a long and astonishingly one-sided news story to the efforts of Native Hawaiians to turn themselves into a federally recognized Indian tribe, without saying one word about the conservative objections to this. The basic problem is that there is a big difference, as a matter of law and policy, between the federal government acknowledging a preexisting political entity, versus creating a brand-new such entity on the basis of race or ethnicity. As a legal matter, the Supreme Court has warned about the potential problems here with the equal-protection guarantee of the Constitution (see its 2000 ruling in Rice v. Cayetano). And as a policy matter, this is more balkanization and identity politics, just what the United States does not need.