UnKingly Statutes

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This column was written by Roger Clegg.
It now appears inevitable that voters in Michigan later this year will have the opportunity to forbid their state — when it hires, promotes, contracts, or makes college-admission decisions — from judging individuals by the color of their skin rather than the content of their character. That is, Jennifer Gratz, Ward Connerly, and several hundred thousand petitioners there have succeeded in placing on the ballot for November 2006 the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, which would bar discrimination and preference based on race, ethnicity, or sex in state employment, education, and contracting.

The measure will pass, but it's needed not just in Michigan, but all over the nation. And Martin Luther King Day is a good time to explain why.

The Federalist Society has posted on its website a white paper by Shawn Nevill and myself that summarizes the results of a nationwide study recently completed by the Society, which surveyed and catalogued the various state statutes that use racial and ethnic classifications. The results were appalling: There are 656 statutes on the books that contain such discriminatory classifications. Not all states have them — the honor roll of those that do not includes 15 states — but most do.

The worst offenders include Louisiana and Arkansas, neighboring states with a long history of racial classifications, as well as, ironically, California. I say "ironically" since the voters of California amended the state constitution in 1996 to ban such discrimination. Come to think of it, though, perhaps "ironically" is not the right word, since the profusion of such statutes and the legislative mindset behind them may be part of what prompted the state's voters to act. Michigan, not incidentally, is another double-digit offender.

The statutes include preferences in government contracting and in other aid to private business; selections for service on various state boards; education, including racial preferences for both teachers and students; and even health care.

It is, to put in mildly, disturbing when states classify their citizens on the basis of skin color and national origin, and treat some folks better and others worse on the basis of those characteristics. Such discrimination is unfair, irrational, divisive, and stigmatizing. It is also increasingly unwieldy and untenable as America becomes more multiracial and multiethnic with every tick of the clock.