Democrats in Congress and the Biden administration have embarked together on an ambitious racial-equity agenda. With a goal of eliminating racial disparities — real or perceived, past or present — the equity agenda wields explicit racial discrimination as a tool to equalize racial outcomes. Put more bluntly, the equity agenda gives tax dollars to racial minorities because they are non-white. In previous political generations, this would have been called “reparations.” But today, it’s simply “equity.”
So far, the equity agenda has been expensive: Democrats and President Biden have spent (or attempted to spend) billions of dollars on race-based handouts in the areas of farmer loan forgiveness, COVID relief for restaurants, mortgage assistance, and a small-business credit initiative, just to name a few. Senator Schumer even recently proposed racial preferences for minority-owned marijuana businesses, and Representative Maxine Waters has proposed a $5,000 grant for any non-white first-time homeowner.
Through all this, however, Republicans have opposed, or at least remained on the sidelines of, the equity agenda.
Last week, 17 Republican senators, including Majority Leader McConnell, voted to move forward with the bipartisan infrastructure deal. This deal, however, is tainted with race-based equity spending. Politicians of all political viewpoints should pause before supporting such spending, even in the name of bipartisanship, as such equity policies are fraught with legal risks and moral pitfalls.
In one such provision, the infrastructure bill includes $2.75 billion for “broadband inclusion” by adopting the so-called Digital Equity Act. This bill, dreamed up by Senators Portman (R., Ohio), Murray (D., Wash.), and King (I., Maine), proposes two grant programs with explicit racial preferences.
Under the first grant, Congress will appropriate block grants to states based on a formula including how many racial minorities are in each particular state. The draft law, of course, doesn’t explicitly say that it gives more money to states with higher proportions of non-white residents. Instead, the law relies on euphemisms such as “covered populations,” which includes “individuals who are members of a racial or ethnic minority group” in its calculus. States, in turn, are required to pay out grants based, at least in part, on race.
The Digital Equity Act’s second grant program offers tax dollars to entities owned or operated by “socially disadvantaged” individuals. Again, “socially disadvantaged” is Congress-speak for non-white. Following lawsuits brought earlier this year by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL), where I serve as deputy counsel, two federal courts struck down similar race-based federal programs to benefit “socially disadvantaged” farmers and restaurant owners. In those cases, the courts found the programs to be illegal race discrimination in violation of the Constitution’s guarantee of equality under the law.
Apart from the infrastructure deal’s adoption of the Digital Equity Act, the deal will also appropriate another $7.5 billion in “equity grants.” Under this program, styled as “Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity” (a.k.a. “RAISE”), the infrastructure deal will dole out tax dollars to erase “racial inequity,” including inequities caused by “automobile dependence.” RAISE grants and their racial classifications dovetail nicely with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s recent complaints about “racism physically built into” U.S. highways. At least 17 Republican senators have agreed to sign over $7.5 billion to a cabinet secretary who believes highways are racist.
The Republicans’ willingness to play footsie with the equity agenda is surprising, if not politically foolish. To date, the calls for “equity” have originated entirely from the political-left and progressive corners of the culture.
The push for equity is Marxism in theory and, when mixed with race, is reparations in practice. Inspired, if not mandated, by the newly vogue critical race theory, equity rejects equal treatment and opportunity in favor of special benefits based on race. In other words, equity calls for discrimination based on race.
Republicans, even those dedicated to the ephemeral notion of “bipartisanship,” should carefully consider whether such a gambit is worth it, even in a relatively small dose of $10 billion.
Our country’s moral and legal foundation is equality. All Americans regardless of race are entitled to equal treatment under the law. This legal and moral mandate of nondiscrimination was paid for with a long, violent, and painful struggle for equality. Although bipartisanship can be important and useful, the rule of equal treatment under the law transcends such a short-term political value. Racializing government programs in the name of equity is illegal and immoral, and demeans us all by placing Americans in rigid racial categories. The infrastructure deal’s plan to spend hard-earned tax dollars in the name of equity undermines America’s foundational principle of equality.