In January President Obama delivered the second State of the Union address of his second term and much of it encompassed what could be described as a realization. Given that Congress acted on only five of the 24 proposals he presented during his 2013 State of the Union address, it appears as if the President is switching up his method of checking off agenda items and is vowing to take more independent action, when he can, to move proposals. The majority of the 60-plus minutes of the State of the Union were spent making declarations of plans to use his executive authority to accomplish what he could when Congress wouldn’t act.
“[W]hat I offer tonight is a set of concrete, practical proposals to speed up growth, strengthen the middle class, and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class,” President Obama said about his plans for the remainder of his term. “Some require Congressional action, and I’m eager to work with all of you. But America does not stand still – and neither will I,” adding “So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.”
He again pledged to bypass Congress if he felt it necessary.
“But I will act on my own to slash bureaucracy and streamline the permitting process for key projects, so we can get more construction workers on the job as fast as possible,” he said.
It was a risk. And of course the threats were met with cantankerous replies and accusations that he was plotting to run a dictatorship, circumventing Federalism and rule of law.
The writing was on the wall through several budget battles, debt limit squabbles and scuffles over extending unemployment benefits that he would be well on the way to becoming a lame duck president if he didn’t figure out how to get things through a majority Republican House of Representatives that is reluctant to advance his proposed laws.
With a full term and no need to tread cautiously so as to alienate voters, the President is free to fully explore some topics and initiatives. For example, he has been more open and active in presenting campaigns that specifically target African Americans.
Before, taking on an aggressive agenda item that targeted only one race, he would surely draw the ire of some who may have accused him of governing to benefit his own people. It’s not as if the statistics wouldn’t and shouldn’t warrant special attention to a group that had higher unemployment rates than any other racial group throughout his presidency. The urban crime in America’s inner cities, particularly the President’s hometown Chicago, indeed deserves programming geared toward its eradication. But such bold moves would be greeted with contempt and suspicions and called pandering. So out of an abundance of caution, it looks as if the first African-American president went a different route. He would instead insist that his policies helped all Americans and de facto blacks too. It was a trickle-down theory of sorts.
“The most important thing I can do for the African-American community is the same thing I can do for the American community. Period. And that is to get the economy going again and get people hiring again,” the president said in a 2009 interview with the Detroit Free Press and USA Today. “It’s a mistake to start thinking in terms of particular ethnic segments of the United States rather than to think that we are all in this together and we are going to get out of this together.”
But many people aren’t satisfied with passive, subtle, incidental and accidental policies for their group when they know very well that it needs explcit attention. They want it spelled out and specific. And so now we have it, the Obama Administration’s “Black Agenda” is here.
It is outright, unapologetic, in-your-face, kicking down policy doors and most importantly targets the black community specifically.
A few years ago, the administration started announcing certain policies that it knew disproportionately impacted African American.
Targeted Policies Disproportionately Impacting African Americans
The Making Home Affordable program would end up aiming to help the substantial number of African-American home owners who were among the millions of other Americans who found themselves upside down on their mortgage, facing foreclosure and desperate for help. Research uncovered discrimination in the housing lending industry that kept black families from rehabilitating their loans.
A 2013 Mortgage lending report found that “Loan servicers foreclose on delinquent black or African-American borrowers more quickly than White or Hispanic borrowers. Additionally, White HAMP eligible borrowers are almost 50% more likely to receive a modification than African-American or Latino borrowers.”
The lending programs forcing the major institutions to negotiate and forgive some portions of loans were god sends, in particular to struggling minority home-owners.
Sympathetic Drug Policy
In 2011, the Department of Justice began announcing plans to adjust its drug sentencing policies so that people are sent to drug treatment facilities instead of receiving jail time. The Second Chance Act funds state, local, and tribal reentry courts, as well as family-centered programs, substance abuse treatment, employment, mentoring and other services improving transition from prison and jail to communities and reducing recidivism. That year the Justice Department announced plans to expand implementation of the Fair Sentencing Act which reduced the 100 to 1 sentencing disparity between powder and crack cocaine, a problem that disproportionately impacts minorities. The new policy expanded the number of drug courts so more petty offenders get treatment and off the drugs which support their lives in the criminal justice system.
Then last summer, Attorney General Eric Holder indicated plans for the Justice Department to not charge low-level nonviolent drug offenders who have little to no ties to large-scale gangs or drug cartels. Men and women in this group, mainly minorities, had been jailed because of “draconian mandatory minimum sentences,” Holder noted.
African Americans are eight times more likely to face jail for petty drugs crimes than whites convicted of the same offence, according to a 2011 report from the Illinois Disproportionate Justice Impact Study Commission. It noted that 19% of black defendants accused of minor drug-possession crimes in the state were sent to prison, compared to just 4% of white defendants.
“Today, a vicious cycle of poverty, criminality, and incarceration traps too many Americans and weakens too many communities,” Holder said. “However, many aspects of our criminal justice system may actually exacerbate this problem, rather than alleviate it.”
Under the drug policy, Holder said defendants would be “charged with offenses for which the accompanying sentences are better suited to their individual conduct, rather than excessive prison terms more appropriate for violent criminals or drug kingpins.”
“By reserving the most severe penalties for serious, high-level, or violent drug traffickers, we can better promote public safety, deterrence, and rehabilitation — while making our expenditures smarter and more productive,” Holder said.
In 2013, the Obama administration announced the Ladders of Opportunities program aimed to help 20 zip codes or communities dealing with record unemployment, infrastructure failures and other stressors through funding and programs that would encourage and support for parents and children, and convert low-income projects into mixed use ones so that business and residential communities intermingle as they do in the most successful city blocks in America.
Inequitable Schools and College Access
The Department of Education started to study predominantly black and Hispanic schools with an eye towards inequities in AP classes, expulsion and availability of quality trained teachers. U.S. Department of Education researchers looked at 85 percent of the nation’s public school students in some 72,000 schools in a widely publicized report released in March 2012, Politi-Fact noted. They found that although black students made up 18 percent of the nation’s public school population, they accounted for 35 percent of students suspended at least once and 39 percent of students expelled. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the findings highlighted the need for educators to address the disparities.
“The power of the data is not only in the numbers themselves, but in the impact it can have when married with the courage and the will to change. The undeniable truth is that the everyday educational experience for many students of color violates the principle of equity at the heart of the American promise,” said Duncan, who is white. “It is our collective duty to change that.”
First Lady Michelle Obama also announced a new plan that would deconstruct hurdles to minority student’s matriculation into college.
Civil Rights Associations
In early February, President Obama met with several civil rights leaders including Rev. Al Sharpton about raising the minimum wage, black unemployment, health care, voting rights and education. It was the latest in a series of meetings with black mayors and other elected officials.
Black Male Achievement and Success
President Obama has launched a private/public partnership called My Brother’s Keeper aimed at addressing the negative statistics plaguing boys of color.
After making the now-controversial remark empathizing with the parents of slain teen Trayvon Martin, he had met with young black boys at Hyde Park Academy last February when he noted that plenty of them had “issues” not unlike the issues he faced growing up:
“I had issues too when I was their age,” he told the audience. “I just had an environment that was a little more forgiving. So when I screwed up, the consequences weren’t as high as when kids on the South Side screw up. So I had more of a safety net. But these guys are no different than me.”
The program is modeled after a $130 million Young Men’s Initiative in New York City funded by former mayor Michael Bloomberg and George Soros. At a cost of $43 million annually, the program connected young black and Latino men with educational and mentoring opportunities through over a dozen city agencies. Some of the money went to literacy and fatherhood programs, half funded by donations from Bloomberg Philanthropies and Soros to the Campaign for Black Male Achievement at the Open Society Foundation.
The efforts were credited with a 23% drop in school suspension and a 34% decline in school arrests, according to Linda Gibbs, who served as a deputy mayor under Bloomberg.
All of these efforts comprise what can be called President Obama’s Black Agenda.
Even though some have criticized him for waiting until the security of his second term to pursue an aggressive series of plans to specifically help African Americans overcome some of the negative stats that plague the group, the fact remains that it would have been challenging to do it in the first term without suffering under the political consequences of being labeled a president for “the blacks.” Further, it must be noted that for all the criticism of Obama waiting “so long” to take on the challenge, not George W. Bush, Bill Clinton or any of the previous 43 presidents before Obama were ever expected to do anything. This is true even though many of the problems that affect black communities today existed years ago under the administrations lead by white presidents. So, maybe it is better late than never in the case of our first black president and the work he is doing for the black community in his second term.
End “Stop & Frisk” Rally
Even on his way out the door, Michael Bloomberg is still fighting for the right of New York City police to wantonly stop and frisk black and Hispanic youth police suspect may be committing a crime–whether they have independent reason to think so or not.
Recently, the city appealed a lower court judge’s decision to deny the city’s request to continue its controversial practice even though the judge, in August, found the policy unconstitutional. The city wanted to continue on until the case had made it up through the appellate courts.The controversy may also be at the heart of New York City’s upcoming mayoral election as well.
Democratic nominee Bill de Blasio was able to use once front-runner for the Democratic nomination Christine Quinn’s connection to outgoing three-term mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) to eventually secure a win.
Furthermore, political watchers pointed out how much of de Blasio’s primary campaign seemed to be against the Bloomberg years. Core to his message was reversing the police Stop and Frisk policy, which Bloomberg has ardently defended and supported.
It all comes down to personal rights and crime.
The Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution, which is part of the Bill of Rights, protects Americans from unlawful search and seizure. However, the US Supreme Court in a 1968 case, Terry v. Ohio, interpreted that police officers have the right to question people they have a “reasonable suspicion” to believe were part of or are about to commit a crime. In the interest of safety of officers, the court said they could pat down a suspect to make sure they are not concealing a weapon that could be used against a questioning office. This became known as a “Terry Stop” or more commonly “ Stop and Frisk.”
During these pat downs, often times, police will usually not discover weapons, but rather illegal drugs or other items which would then form a basis to arrest the suspect. Without some independent evidence or other form of probable cause, officers usually cannot just randomly arrest citizens.
The law is still valid, but has been subject to abuse. Yet, critics of “Stop and Frisk” in New York city have said it was watered down and was being conducted casually, increasingly, and lasciviously without regard to people’s constitutional rights.
Over the past decade, New York Police significantly increased its stop and frisk rate. Between 2004 and 2009 police stopped 2.8 million people and Blacks were among 50% of those stopped. Latinos 30% and whites were merely 10% of that population.
In 2008, on behalf of four individuals, the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a class action complaint against the city. It argued that the practice violated the Fourth Amendment and officers had been using no independent or separate reasons to stop and frisk people but simply stopping black youth in inner city neighborhoods, wantonly, and without any attempt to follow the standard set up in the Terry case.
In May of 2012, a judge granted class action status. One of the plaintiffs, Lalit Clarkson, a 20-year old charter school teacher’s aid in the Bronx said, in 2006 he was coming from work when two officers stopped and searched him for drugs. “I think many folks in our community feel there is no accountability for when their rights are violated by the police,” Clarkson told the New York Times.
The city admitted that within the first 3 months of 2012 alone, it had stopped and frisked 200,000 people, mainly young black men. Bloomberg credited the substantial and exponential drop in crime in the city and the targeted neighborhoods on the practice and vowed to maintain it. But in August, Judge Shira A. Scheindlin agreed that the law indeed violates the Fourth Amendment, finding the Police Department resorted to a “policy of indirect racial profiling” as it increased the number of stops in minority communities. That has led to officers’ routinely stopping “blacks and Hispanics who would not have been stopped if they were white.”
The decision also stated that New York police were too quick to deem suspicious behavior that was perfectly innocent, in effect watering down the legal standard required for a stop.“Blacks are likely targeted for stops based on a lesser degree of objectively founded suspicion than whites,” she wrote.
In the 195-page opinion, (summarized here), the judge called for the federal government to oversee reforms of the system and asked that officers wear body cameras during patrols, noting also that she was not calling an end to the practice.
Bloomberg appealed the decision and said he wouldn’t ask his officers to change the practice overnight. “You’re not going to see any change in tactics overnight,” Bloomberg said this August after the decision was handed down, adding that he hoped police would be allowed to continue their practice through the appeal process and the end of his term. “I wouldn’t want to be responsible for a lot of people dying.”
However, he had a slightly softer stance later when he admitted to a New Yorker reporter that if he had a son who routinely got stopped as young black men do, he may have had a change of heart.
It was another door opener for de Blasio who has a black wife and bi-racial son to connect more with the very diverse and Democratic residents of New York City. In a campaign ad, with his son in it, de Blasio refers to talking to his son about possibly getting stopped and frisked.
Bloomberg’s wish of hoping the practice continues until the end of his term got denied on September 17, when a judge denied his request to retain it until the case exhausts its appeal. He recently appealed it to the court of appeals.
Last month, the world was focused on Syria with much of the buzz focused on Russian president Vladimir Putin challenging President Obama’s reference to American Exceptionalism. The president mentioned this concept during a speech he gave last month at the height of Syria’s alleged chemical warfare crisis. In the midst of his recommendation for a limited military strike, he suggested that Americans are endowed as exceptional, perhaps by a higher being, or by its position in the world as an influential super power and its historical role as a hub for democracy and admirable standards and principles. Meanwhile, an example of American Exceptionalism contribution to Africa can be seen in the Obama administration’s policies in Sub-Sahara Africa.
Recently, all eyes were on Kenya as its police battled an attack made by Somali members of al-Shabab—an Al Qaeda sympathizing terror group—on shoppers in an upscale mall in the East African nation. Before then, much focus was on Egypt and Syria. But Africa has been trying to shake the stereotypical images that many in the Western world have of it being a hub for war-torn conflict, famine, and underdevelopment. The Sub-Saharan region of the massive continent is quite eager to get past stagnation and become more self-sustaining and less dependent on foreign aid and assistance from nongovernmental entities and churches that mission there regularly. Given that President Obama is a son of Africa, with his father being born, raised and dying in Kenya, many Africans were eager to see him spend more time and effort there. But it didn’t happen.
The most time he spent on the continent was 22 hours during a fly over stop in Ghana in 2008. First Lady Michelle Obama sojourned there twice during this first term, though. President Obama was busy focusing on building up a downturn economy and passing an expansive healthcare legislation. He had little opportunity to devote to Africa, not until after securing this second term in office was he able to present his Africa Policy.
This summer, we learned it will focus on promoting broader democracy, government transparency, less corruption and electoral fraud. He’ll also work on getting more nations that make up Sub-Sahara to develop and maintain international standards so that they can rely less on international aid and build up a sustainable middle class.
Over the course of a 7-night diplomatic trip, the president trekked through all economic regions of Sub-Sahara Africa meeting with and addressing various African leaders and groups. The venture is a promising aspect of Obama’s Africa policy, which seems to focus on long-term sustenance, trade, and development initiatives that would position nations in Sub-Sahara Africa to compete globally and be leaders in 21st century growth fields.
During his second term, however, he’s had opportunity to pivot and focus some energy on Africa. The mission this summer, albeit belated in the eyes of some, was a welcome effort. Indeed, Obama had big shoes to fill as his predecessors George W. Bush and Bill Clinton both launched many initiatives and spent lots of money in Africa.
Their efforts were key to reducing the rate of HIV/AIDS , malaria, infant and maternal mortality; and increasing food security and safety. Even the newest prime minister of China visited within a month of taking office. China along with Brazil had invested much in Africa, though mainly to extract precious oil and other natural resources from the mineral rich land mass. Still, in 2012 Brazil’s top investment bank BTG Pactual said it planned to raise $1 billion to create the world’s biggest investment fund for Africa, focusing on areas such as infrastructure, energy and agriculture. Its two most recent prime ministers visited over 25 nations.
Obama did in fact pick up from where Bush left off, but pivoted slightly. His choice to focus on trade is a smart one as it has implications beyond the here and now and could spell good business for the US as well.
Currently, “Africa receives merely 2% of all US exports,” Obama said during remarks at a business leaders forum in Tanzania. US government’s total trade with the entire continent is same as trade with Brazil or South Africa which each have a small fraction of Africa’s population. Taiwan, has 1/38 of Africa’s population yet exported $28 billion to the US, roughly the equivalent of Macy’s annual revenues. To say Africa is underperforming on its potential is an understatement.
“The entire GDP of Sub-Saharan Africa is still less than $2 trillion — which is about the same as Italy,” Obama said at the forum.
From the half a dozen or so speeches and policy positions presented in Africa, it is probably safe to summarize Obama’s Africa policy into three priorities
a) Promoting and helping alleviate Africa’s energy deficiencies which have stymied the continent’s ability to grow to its fullest economic potential;
b) Encouraging and bolstering ongoing trade initiatives with the United States and among nations within regions of the continent; and
c) Helping establish and maintain international standards in trade, the electoral process,
In addition, the US is also helping to combat the $7 to $10 billion annual illegal animal trade that is “decimating the populations for some of Africa’s iconic animals.”
Rhino horns sell on black market for $30,000 a pound and elephant tusks for $1,000 a pound.
The president also announced during his Tanzania trip, that the US State Department would give an additional $10 million in regional and bilateral training and technical aid to combat wildlife trafficking. It tacks on the money already spent in Africa and Asia to counter poaching, train law enforcement officers in wildlife crime investigation, and helps build more wild life conservation.
Energy is Africa’s Future
The most pronounced visual imagery in news reports from of the trip was that of the president bouncing a soccer ball on his head. Only it wasn’t just for fun and games.
After showing off his skills, he was able to use the kinetic energy created from the ball bouncing around to power up a phone. A Kenyan-American woman invented the ball, called a “Sokket” ball as part of Uncharted Play, a nine-person New York City-based not-for-profit organization that is working to bring electricity into rural communities like those found in Sub-Saharan Africa. The ball could also be used to light up a lamp to read at night.
That exhibit was an example of the type of innovation that could ease Africa’s energy problem and possibly help it leapfrog other nations in future energy creation. The International Energy Agency predicts that Sub-Saharan Africa will require more than $300 billion in investment to achieve universal electricity by 2030.
If Africa were to successfully adopt and implement clean technology to meet the challenges of the billions of inhabitants, it could prove a convincing test case for relatively new technology. Obama could easily point to successes in Africa’s experimentation with exploiting new renewable energy sources when skeptics here challenge the technology.
US sends food aid to Africa annually but insufficient and archaic power sources make it difficult for rural villages and other areas to get power to generate refrigerators and storage—more than two-thirds of the people in sub-Saharan Africa have no access to electricity
Power Africa is a program, targeted toward encouraging and aiding innovation. It will include a $2 million off-grid energy challenge funded by the U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF). African-owned and operated enterprises could compete for up to $100,000 to develop or expand the use of proven technologies for off-grid electricity benefitting rural and marginal populations.
In less than one week some of the 45 million Americans without healthcare will be able to sign up to finally get it as the next stage of the Affordable Care Act, euphemistically called Obamacare, rolls out on October 1. That is the date when states will start enrolling some of the 21.5 million adults under the age of 65 who will now qualify for a benefit currently available to 60 million poor children, the disabled, and some of the elderly. Each state determines the criteria and how it will allow more people get Medicaid.
Here are some things you need to know about the Affordable Care Act:
Everyone has to get insurance by 2015 or face a penalty
To pay for this expansion in coverage under the law passed during Obama’s first term in 2010, the government requires that all Americans get health insurance by 2015. Those who do not will be assessed a penalty when they file their annual tax returns.
Mandatory insurance encourages people to take responsibility for their healthcare in advance
Obamacare is about encouraging people to be responsible for their own healthcare in advance rather than forcing the government to shoulder the burden should the need arise unexpectedly. The mandatory insurance is meant to save the government money it now spends on the uninsured when they have to go to the emergency room for care. Currently, US law prohibits hospitals from not providing emergency care to anyone who comes to them. But when hospitals are unable to collect on hospital stays from people who are uninsured, they eventually apply to the government for a reimbursement from the Medicaid fund.
To make the healthcare act work, the federal government has a challenge to get 7 million enrolled the first year. Through a vigorous public awareness campaign, the Feds will have to convince 2.5 million healthy young people who make up a third of the uninsured to sign up for healthcare. And although 73% of those surveyed who are 30 and under believe getting health insurance is the responsible thing to do, not all will sacrifice their weekend beer habit to pay for monthly premiums.
But there’s a learning curve challenge…
The challenge is that many Americans still have no clue that Obamacare is the law of the land. A Kaiser family poll released in April showed that 40% of those surveyed didn’t know it was in effect and 7% thought the US Supreme Court had overruled it rather than, upholding the law. A third of them are concentrated in the heavily populated large states of Texas, California and Florida.
A Gallup poll this summer revealed that 53% of Americans didn’t know they faced a penalty if they didn’t get insurance by 2015. A forthcoming article to be published in the Journal of Health Economics finds that most Americans don’t even understand basic terms associated with healthcare. Only 14% of respondents knew the most basic terms, “deductible, copay, co-insurance and out-of-pocket maximum.”
But the law has already taken effect and benefitted some groups:
- Young people: An estimated 7 million young people between the ages of 18- 26 have been able sign up or stay on their parents’ plans to get healthcare.
- Families preventive screenings: Many families and individuals may or may not realize that they no longer have to pay for certain sick visits or screenings because of the law. It required insurance companies to eat the co-pay costs of Mammograms, well-women visits, gestational diabetes for pregnant women, cancer, domestic violence screenings and breastfeeding supplies.
- Insurance policy holders: Also, this summer, 12.1 million individuals and businesses got $1.1 billion in rebate checks from their insurance companies. The rebates came from insurance companies that made their insured persons pay for overhead such as CEO bonuses, administrative costs and other charges that had nothing to do with providing healthcare.
- Seniors: It also eliminated a coverage gap where seniors’ prescription costs skyrocketed for a brief time. Under the law, seniors subject to the lapse were spared from having to fork up thousands for their prescriptions.
- Those with pre-existing conditions: Insurance companies were prohibited from banning people with pre-existing conditions from coverage.
Getting states on board is challenging too
In less than a week, some states will start enrolling newly qualified adults into their Medicaid plans and make available healthcare plans from across the nation under state exchanges. The federal government is under the gun given that 26 states have opted out of creating their own exchange programs leaving it up to the feds to set up. Nevertheless, when Medicaid was first created in 1965, most states didn’t offer it either but over the following few years, almost all got on board when their state residents pressured them into it.
Those who buy private insurance can shop for better options
The 16 million Americans who currently buy independent healthcare–not through an employer–will get more options, including those available in plans in other states through exchanges. Through these exchanges programs set up on state websites, insurers who participate will present their plans, coverage, copay, and deductibles in the pot among other insurance plans.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates 24 million to sign up through 2016.
Insurance companies, not tax payers, fund exchanges
Kaiser Family estimates that the exchanges will cost states between $25 to $65 million to run, but most hope to offset those costs via the fees they charge insurance companies to enroll. Insurance companies are willingly signing up on state exchanges. Because Obamacare requires everyone to get health insurance; they are essentially guaranteed a wider market of potential new customers.
Families and Individuals Eligible for Insurance Premium Subsidy
Approximately 26 million Americans who are already insured may be eligible to receive government subsidies for those up to 400% of the poverty line of $45,000 for an individual or $92,000 for a family of four. Those who are already insured and perhaps pay out-of-pocket or through an employer plan could be eligible to receive a subsidy in the cost of their current premium via a government tax credit.
Test State Case: Maryland
Maryland is one of 17 states nationwide that has agreed to set up an exchange and it is among a few of them that has already set up a website, assembled insurers, and is nearly ready to begin enrolling new Medicaid cases on October 1 through its web portal.
On January 1, 2014, already insured residents and those who don’t qualify for Medicaid can get access to the part of the website that will empower them to compare all the various available plans, and pick the one that best meets their needs.
The intent is for competition to encourage premiums across the board to drop. The essence of a free market economy is the availability of options will require competitors to create better products, and make services competitive.
Using one application, they can apply for the subsidy, pick a plan and find out if a family member may qualify for Medicaid or the state’s Maryland Children’s Health Program (MCHP). Its website also offers a calculator to help small businesses determine if they will be eligible for a tax credit for their portion of employee health insurance they currently pay. Even though only employers with 50 or more employees will be required to provide health insurance, those who have less than 25 may also be eligible for a tax credit. Maryland is a state to watch to determine how many enroll and how implementation of this stage is working out.
If you already have insurance, beginning in 2014, they will have to cover:
• Laboratory services
• Maternity care
• Mental health and substance abuse treatment
• Outpatient, or ambulatory care
• Pediatric care
• Prescription drugs
• Preventive care
• Rehabilitative and habilitative (helping maintain daily functioning) services
• Vision and dental care for children
At this point, whether one has insurance or not, all will have to start doing some basic research on the available options and prepare to apportion their budgets accordingly to absorb a penalty or to pay for a reasonable plan that meets their needs. Those with insurance should prepare to apply for tax credits or be on the lookout for benefits. They should also monitor their bills and premiums to make sure they’re not being charged for items that the law says should not be.
Clarence Thomas seems to think considering race in admissions is unnecessary. Do you agree? (Photo courtesy of Newscom.)
So the United States Supreme Court handed down the opinion to the much-anticipated Fisher v. University of Texas affirmative action case last week.
It was anticlimactic because the court punted. It handed the case back down to the federal court (5th Circuit Court of Appeals) to apply the more stringent standard required when reviewing a challenge to a state benefit when race is a factor, Strict Scrutiny. Rather than consider whether the UT policy was narrowly tailored to serve the state’s compelling interest in advancing diversity in education, the court merely considered whether it had reasonable basis for its policy, then offered the petitioners to rebut that presumption.
It did not rule substantively on the case where a white woman denied admission to the selective university blamed the schools’ affirmative action policy, which considers race among over a dozen other factors when deciding whom to admit among those falling below a minimum auto-admit academic index.
The petitioner in the initial case did not have the qualifications to get admitted under a policy that grants automatic admission to freshman applicants in the top 10% of their high school class in the state. That policy was instituted after the Supreme Court in Hopwood v. Texas overruled the university systems’ previous affirmative action policy.
Knowing that there are large pockets of segregated areas in the state where high schools are almost 100% minorities, the law was a way to ensure racial diversity but without explicitly using the word “race.” It was facially race-neutral but effectively had racial impact.
UT used a holistic index policy for those not meeting a minimum academic index, taking into account a host of factors including military service, honors and awards, extracurricular or community activities, publications, history of overcoming disadvantage, personal essays, leadership qualities, extracurricular activities, community service, family responsibilities, family and school socioeconomic status, whether the applicant comes from a single-parent home, whether they worked during high school, and whether languages other than English are spoken in their home.
Racial minorities have not been the only ones to benefit under that policy; women, a rural white man who was the first in his family to be admitted to college, those who have overcome handicaps or other disabilities, and some from poor backgrounds have benefited as well.
Rather than blame those admitted on one of the other factors over her, Fisher filed suit challenging the inclusion of the racial factor alone, saying it violated the 14th Amendment Equal Protection clause. Ironically, the law was created to protect African Americans from discrimination, but has been used more recently in school-related cases by litigants in reverse discrimination lawsuits.
Many in the African American community are pointing out the concurring opinion of Clarence Thomas, the sole African American on the bench, where he questions the value of considering diversity in college admissions, and states he would overrule the UT policy and even its 10% auto admit policy altogether.
Thomas stated in his opinion that affirmative action could hurt minorities by casting doubt on their accomplishments and putting some students in classes they are ill-prepared to succeed in.
He went on to compare the arguments of affirmative-action supporters with those of segregationists, saying UT, by affirming the need for race-based classifications, is embracing the policies of the Jim Crow South.
“There is no principled distinction between the University’s assertion that diversity yields educational benefits and the segregationists’ assertion that segregation yielded those same benefits,” he wrote.
Although many are upset, I get what Thomas was stating.
Personally, I’ve recognized being given treatment when the perpetrator presumed me to be less qualified or intelligent than even junior members of my peer class. I recall one incident where a competitive partner at the law firm I worked at went out of his way to avoid me getting assigned to his team during a bus-ride trip Trivial Pursuit-type game. At one point during the game, I figured out an answer to a question that had stumped everyone on the bus. The way everyone was surprised and patted me on my back after my correct reply led me to question whether they would have been so “shocked” had a white male gotten the answer right.
I mean, by the time I worked there, I had passed three state bars, earned two law degrees, argued before judges, and gotten published in a legal journal and hired by an exclusive international law firm. What more did I need to do to prove I was “qualified”? Was I going to have to carry the burden of being presumed an affirmative action hire forever?
The answer, sadly, may be yes! Even over the last four years of writing my column, The Politics of Raising Children, for the Washington Times Communities section, I’ve had commenters who disagreed with my position on an issue leave remarks essentially stating that I must have been afforded a column to satisfy some racial quota. Some people will always see your race first, and allow that to determine their response to you or your skills or opinions.
When my husband got admitted into my alma mater, Georgetown University Law, a friend jokingly asked him if I had helped him get into the school, sort of insinuating that he couldn’t have done it on his own. Meanwhile, my husband had scored high enough to get himself into the University of Virginia, University of Michigan, and a score of other top selective law schools. He surpassed their basic academic index for admission and didn’t even require the diversity level consideration. Thus, he is presumed to not have matriculated on his brains alone.
Sometimes it may be worth it.
For me, when I arrived at my law school, I vividly recall several incidents when I was made to feel that my presence assisted my classmates’ understanding of law and its application. Getting the perspectives of someone who dealt with the issues differently because of cultural background and experiences must have enhanced and/or supplemented their learning experience. We should want lawyers who are empathetic to experiences of all their clients, even if their backgrounds differed.
In my constitutional law class, especially when issues related to civil rights came up, as the only or one of two African Americans in a class of 100, I’d feel the heat of all eyes on me as I fumbled to come up with a response to the professor’s question that was substantively right but also reflected the black reaction. In those days, I felt the burden of having to represent my entire race. I’d sweat, get hot under the collar, and panic. What if I said the wrong thing? My answer could shape the perceptions of all in this classroom. At times, when certain topics came up that required the requisite black answer, people would just turn to me even if I didn’t raise my hand or wasn’t called on.
That was unfair pressure and burden. My classmates of European heritage didn’t have to be saddled with having to educate others. They were free to just be and learn. I didn’t have that luxury. I had to represent on behalf of all those who’ve been in my shoes but were not there to explain their experiences.
My “A-ha” Moment
However, I also have vivid recollection of an incident during one criminal procedure class. While discussing the challenges of stop-and-frisk laws and their potential discriminatory impact, the professor asked if it was wrong for unsubstantiated stopping and frisking to continue, given the criminal justice system’s duty and interest in protecting the general public.
One classmate piped up with the opinion that it was only a minor convenience—even if one is innocent of wrongdoing—to be stopped and frisked routinely, because we all, as a society, should be interested in doing their parts to help police find criminals.
Like a rocket grenade, every single one of the five black students in that class of about 150 shot up their hands to reply to such an asinine and clearly misguided thought. I was called on and tried to enunciate how dehumanizing it must be for a person to be stopped daily on their way home from work or school because of their skin and be forced to squat on a sidewalk where their friends and neighbors can see.
It’s a minor inconvenience if neither you nor anyone you know have had to endure such humiliation. I don’t think I was poised and articulated in my response. Fortunately, the professor chimed in and better explained my frustration.
And just like that, it again became apparent the benefits of diversity in classrooms to at least challenge others’ false notions based on their limited experiences.
Because there is a high likelihood that an African American may have had an experience with racial profiling or have known someone who had, they would be able to share anecdotally their experiences and enhance classroom discussions and dialogue and enable others to see perspectives different than their own.
There is value in diversity. Of course, everyone in one race does not think or feel the same way on all issues, but there is a high likelihood that they will have been in similar situations or have cultural associations or awareness governed by their shared experiences colored by race.
While minority students and or management employees may be presumed to be affirmative action admits or hires, some never question others’ presence or advancement the same way.
In the workplace, brown nosers, those with familial or other close relationships with management, or those who play office politics may advance faster in some cases, even when they may not be the most qualified. Plum projects and key assignments may be afforded to those who bear the same physical, racial, or gender characteristics of past success cases because they are presumed to be competent and more than qualified, and given the benefit of the doubt based on subjective internalized preference even before considering qualifications.
In the academic setting, athletic admittees with substantially lower academic qualifications or admittees with a legacy or familial relationship with the school may also be advanced despite their inferior qualifications. Because few people recognize these instances, they often go unchallenged.
Not all value diversity nor recognize its importance in public discourse and education. Those who don’t many times are the same ones who falsely believe in the fallacy of total meritocracy in admissions, hiring, and promotion.
Thus, even if Clarence Thomas had the power to eliminate the 10% rule, I question and wonder what he would have put in its place. It is unclear whether he supports laws and policies that would work to improve the segregated, underperforming, and less academically challenging schools in urban inner cities. You cannot eliminate the solution to a bad problem without at least enunciating an alternative that addresses that problem.