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The Spectre of White Affirmative Action


President Bush’s bum-rush slotting of John Roberts for US Supreme Court Chief Justice constitutes a poke in the eye to current Justice Clarence Thomas.

For critics of the reactionary Thomas, this poke provides a perverse silver lining in the dark cloud of Roberts’ reign as CJ.

Thomas, the loyal water boy for the far right-wing, is an ardent opponent of affirmative action as a remedy for decades of racial discrimination against African-Americans.

President Bush often cited Thomas as his “model” for a conservative Supreme Court justice even hinting that he could envision the Court’s only black as Chief Justice.

However, when Bush had an opportunity to act on his accolades for Thomas, he opted to elevate a fledgling federal appellate judge to head the nation’s highest court.

What poetic justice that Thomas’ dreams of rising to Chief Justice through either seniority or loyal service (certainly not through prodigious intellect) are dashed by white affirmative action, that racial discriminatory hiring practice that Thomas claims no longer exists.

The hiring practices of President Bush highlight the hypocrisy of conservative critics of affirmative action programs for non- whites.

Conservative critics of affirmative action for non-whites advance variations of a theme John Roberts included in 1981 memo he authored during service in the US Justice Department as a foot soldier for the ‘Reagan Revolution.’

While castigating a US Civil Rights Commission report defending affirmative action, Roberts inaccurately assailed affirmative action as bound to fail because it required “the recruiting of inadequately prepared candidates.”

Ideologues like Roberts always overlook the legions of ‘inadequately prepared’ beneficiaries of White Affirmative Action.

Exhibit A of an inadequately prepared candidate is Michae ­ “You’re doing a heck of a job Brownie” ­ Brown, the former head of FEMAwhose incompetence compounded the post- Katrina disaster.

Brown lacked substantive disaster management experience, heading a horse-show organization before sliding into FEMA.

Brown’s initial entrance into FEMA resulted from his hiring by his old college roommate.

Joe Allbaugh, Bush’s original FEMA head, hired college chum Brown as FEMA’s top lawyer after the International Arabian Horse Association dropped Brown for poor performance.

Allbaugh ­ a product of white affirmative-action himself ­ also lacked prior disaster management experience.

Allbaugh’s pre-FEMA experience included heading the Bush- Cheney presidential campaign in 2000 and serving as Chief of Staff for Texas Governor Bush.

Bush promoted Brown to head FEMA after Allbaugh left the critical emergency response agency to set up a private company to cash-in on government contractsanother variant of white affirmative action.

Hiring inadequately prepared candidates is a hallmark of the Bush Administration that has recently slotted a veterinarian to head the FDA’s Office of Women’s Health and the niece of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to head the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency despite her paltry law enforcement experience.

Bush’s disastrous Iraq invasion is a quagmire straight from the ideology-blinded minds of his Neo-conservative political appointees ­ a cabal inadequately prepared to conduct foreign policy.

The white affirmative-action practiced by the Bush Administration is particularly galling because this crew crusades so audaciously against affirmative-action applied to persons of color.

The same President Bush who proudly bashes affirmative action contracting for non-whites as improper “racial preferences” arrogantly provides special preference, multi- billion dollar no-bid contracts to connected corporations like Halliburton, the firm once headed by Bush’s Vice-President, Dick Cheney.

Bush’s selection of John Roberts for Chief Justice is a glaring example of white affirmative-action irrespective of Roberts’ respected legal acumen elevating him above the ranks of an inadequately prepared candidate.

The bigot Bush designated Roberts to replace, the late William Rehnquist, at least spent fourteen years as a Supreme Court Justice before his elevation to Chief Justice.

Roberts has less than three years experience as a federal appeals court judgegetting that lofty position without having any prior judicial experience.

White affirmative action aided Roberts during many steps in his career.

Roberts landed a plum clerkship with a federal appeals judge after his Harvard Law School graduation, followed immediately by a prestige elevating clerkship with US Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist ­ who never hired a black law clerk.

From that Supreme Court slot, young lawyer Roberts went on to hold prominent, law shaping positions with the Reagan and Bush I administrations.

This presidential service boosted Roberts’ private lawyer career, elevating him to millionaire status.

As a legal strategist for President Ronald Reagan, Roberts enthusiastically participated in the conservative onslaught against affirmative action that craftily changed standards that eventually crippled legal defenses for programs implemented to remediate decades of American apartheid.

Roberts, in another 1981 Justice Department memo, declared that “under our view of law, it is not enough to say that blacks and women have been historically discriminated against as groups and therefore are entitled to special preferences.”

This ‘view’ Roberts’ advanced to his boss, the US Attorney General, dripped with conservative spin designed to obscure factual realities of history.

Contrary to Roberts’ deceptive twist of the historical record, blacks have always sought fairness not special favors.

In 1799, when seventy black Philadelphians petitioned Congress to protect America’s free blacks from illegal kidnapping into slavery, their petition asked that free blacks be “admitted to partake of the liberties and unalienable rights” promised in the US Constitution.

That 1799 petition ­ indignantly rejected by Congress ­ contained no requests for ‘special preferences.’

Those Philadelphia petitioners and successive generations of blacks have always sought equal justice under the law ­ the very phrase chiseled in stone over the entrance of the US Supreme Court buildingthe same building that Roberts says he gets a “lump in his throat” every time he enters to argue a case.

Interestingly, a key legal impetus for elevating white affirmative-action came through the 1896 US Supreme Court ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson.

That infamous ruling in a railroad discrimination case from New Orleans established legalized ‘separate but equal’ racial apartheid across Americaa few decades after the Civil War ended slavery.

Rehnquist, while serving as a Supreme Court clerk, wrote a memo opposing the seminal Brown school desegregation case stating the Court should uphold the Plessy separate-but-equal segregation precedent.

Rulings by Roberts as an appeals judge exhibit a Rehnquist-like streak of sophistically using the rule-of-law to suppress justice in civil rights cases.

In a 2004 civil rights ruling, Roberts rejected pleas for justice from a black Washington DC teen arrested, handcuffed and jailed by police at age 12 for eating a single French fry in a subway station entrance during a ‘zero tolerance’ crackdown on eating by riders.

Roberts defended transit police arresting juveniles while simply giving adults citations on the specious ground that adults wouldn’t lie to police about their names while children might not give “truthfuli dentifying information.”

During President Bush’s January inauguration speech, he urged America to “abandon all the habits of racism.” Giving a Supreme Court slot to a man with a history of defending racism certainly upholds conservative political traditions but it contradicts the President’s call to abandon racism.

When the Supreme Court begins its new term and Clarence Thomas continues his stump-like silence at least there is a plausible explanation for his not asking questions.

He’s stewing over white affirmative action depriving him of his dream: becoming Chief Justice.

Linn Washington Jr. is a graduate of the Yale Law Journalism Fellowship Program. He is a columnist for the Philadelphia Tribune, the nation’s oldest African-American owned newspaper.











We published an article entitled “A Saudiless Arabia” by Wayne Madsen dated October 22, 2002 (the “Article”), on the website of the Institute for the Advancement of Journalistic Clarity, CounterPunch, (the “Website”).

Although it was not our intention, counsel for Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi has advised us the Article suggests, or could be read as suggesting, that Mr Al Amoudi has funded, supported, or is in some way associated with, the terrorist activities of Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

We do not have any evidence connecting Mr Al Amoudi with terrorism.

As a result of an exchange of communications with Mr Al Amoudi’s lawyers, we have removed the Article from the Website.

We are pleased to clarify the position.

August 17, 2005


Linn Washington, Jr. is a founder of This Can’t Be Happening and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He lives in Philadelphia.

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