The Corner

Law & the Courts

An Appalling Speech by Secretary Tillerson

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has just given an appalling speech. From beginning to end it embraces bean-counting on the basis of race, ethnicity, and sex in order to reach the right percentages of this, that, and the other; the great irony is that he thinks this approach demonstrates his commitment to the principle of nondiscrimination. So the response of this part of the Trump administration to neo-Nazis’ call for politically incorrect race-based action in Charlottesville is politically correct race-based action at Foggy Bottom.

Secretary Tillerson specifically promises a State Department “Rooney Rule”: “Every time we have an opening for an ambassador position, at least one of the candidates must be a minority candidate.” Not only is such race-based hiring divisive, unfair, and an endorsement of just the sort of identity politics that we ought to have learned by now is poisonous, but it is illegal, as explained here and here.

The purported justification for this discrimination is this:

I think one of the things that it’s important to appreciate is the value of diversity. It’s not just to achieve a mix of population that looks like the rest of our country. I know from my long career in the private sector, my experience has been the value of diversity in the workplace is it enriches our work, it enriches our work product to have individuals who come with a different cultural perspective or they come with different life experiences. That’s the value. They will see things in the world that I cannot see. I did not have that life experience.

So, first, note that if something is done “not just” to achieve X, then it’s conceded that indeed X is one of the aims; but trying to have more of this group (and thus less of that group) because of national demographics is nothing but the “discrimination for its own sake” that Justice Lewis Powell rejected in Regents of the Univ. of Cal. v.  Bakke.

As for the rest of the justification, why should skin color and national origin be used as proxies for “cultural perspective” or “life experiences”?  Do all blacks and whites think alike, do all Asian Americans and Latinos live in the same neighborhood? Why does Secretary Tillerson assume that, by knowing someone’s race and ethnicity, he knows how “[t]hey will see things in the world”? This is just the crudest of stereotyping.  And, here again, it is not only wrong but illegal:  No federal court has recognized a “diversity” exception to Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bans employment sorting and discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, and religion.

This week’s lesson for the Trump administration: It needs to embrace E pluribus unum, and make clear its categorical rejection of identity politics and race-based policy and action, whether politically correct or politically incorrect.

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