Center for Equal Opportunity

The nation’s only conservative think tank devoted to issues of race and ethnicity.


Last update07:03:07 AM

Back You are here: Home Other Issues “Color of Skin, Not Content of Character”?!?

“Color of Skin, Not Content of Character”?!?

Last week, we honored Martin Luther King Jr., whose most famous quote is, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” This year marks the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s death at the hands of an assassin; it is also the 50th anniversary of the passage of the federal Fair Housing Act.

So there’s some irony in a recent news story: A Fair Housing Act lawsuit has been settled, with each plaintiff getting $8000, where the theory was that the landlord and local government discriminated against people not because they had a particular skin color, but because they had a criminal record. That is, it was illegal to judge people by the content of their character, and it didn’t matter if the color of their skin had nothing to do with it.

That’s because the Fair Housing Act — thanks to a 5-4 Supreme Court ruling a couple of years ago, where Justice Kennedy joined the Court’s four liberals — allows “disparate impact” causes of action. Under this theory, a housing policy that is racially nondiscriminatory in its terms, in its enforcement, and in its intent, can still be held illegal if its leads to statistically different results for different racial and ethnic groups. In the case here, disqualifying people with a criminal record apparently has a disproportionate result in this particular locale on African Americans.

Thanks a lot, Justice Kennedy.  (The Center for Equal Opportunity, by the way, had for years fought in the courts for a contrary conclusion.)

By the way, as my friend Hans von Spakovsky points out, landlords now face a Catch-22: If they try to keep convicted criminals out of their properties, they will risk a Fair Housing Act lawsuit. If they don’t, and a tenant with a criminal background injures another tenant, then they risk a lawsuit by the latter for the foreseeable harm caused by the former.

All is not completely lost, however. Congress, of course, could amend the statute. Maybe someday a better Supreme Court will undo its damage. And, in the meantime, the Trump administration can at least revise the Obama administration’s regulations under the statute so that they are no worse than they have to be under the Supreme Court’s decision. Indeed, to his credit Justice Kennedy did put some constraints on the scope of disparate-impact lawsuits, and those constraints should be reflected in the executive branch’s regulations.

Here’s hoping that each branch does its part to restore a statute that forbids judging people by the color of their skin, but allows them to be treated differently according to the content to their character.

*          *          *

Sometimes You Just Can’t Win – Also last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions gave fulsome praise to Dr. King, for his message and life, calling on Justice Department employees to “remember, celebrate and act.”

“But civil rights leaders criticized Sessions’s remarks,” according to the Washington Post, because they were made while he was pointing the Department in a direction their groups don’t like.

Never miss an opportunity to refuse to acknowledge any common ground. No doubt these “civil rights leaders” would have been happier if Sessions had ignored King or, better yet, criticized him, his message, and his life.

*          *          *

Re: “Is Diversity a Strength?” – Following up on Jonah Goldberg’s excellent article last week, here’s my top-ten list of what we should expect from those who want to become Americans (and those who are already Americans, for that matter). This assimilation list was first published in a National Review Online column, and it was later fleshed out in congressional testimony.

1. Don’t disparage anyone else’s race or ethnicity.
2. Respect women.
3. Learn to speak English.
4. Be polite.
5. Don’t break the law.
6. Don’t have children out of wedlock.
7. Don’t demand anything because of your race or ethnicity.
8. Don’t view working and studying hard as “acting white.”
9. Don’t hold historical grudges.
10. Be proud of being an American.

Jonah is exactly right that assimilation should not be a dirty word. And to the extent that “diversity” — as it often does these days, though I doubt that Senator Graham, at least, was guilty of this — cloaks an anti-assimilation, anti-merit, pro-preference, pro–identity-politics agenda, it is not a “strength” and should not be “celebrated.”

*          *          *

Restoring Voting Rights for Felons – And one last item from last week:  The New York Times printed my response to its misguided January 3 editorial re “Florida’s 1.5 Million Missing Voters”:

Your editorial is correct that a proposed state constitutional amendment would “automatically restore voting rights to the vast majority of Floridians” who are disenfranchised because they are felons, but it is quite wrong in asserting that this is a “pointless policy” that is “explicitly racist.”

The point of the policy is that, if you’re not willing to follow the law, then you can’t demand a right to make the law for everyone else, which is what you do — directly or indirectly — when you vote. The right to vote should be restored to felons not automatically upon release from prison, but only once they show that they have turned over a new leaf, since alas most felons commit new crimes.

As for the claim that the law is “explicitly racist,” a federal court of appeals ruled 11-1 in 2005 that Florida’s current law was not so motivated.