Chemerinsky on Color Blindness

Atlantic:

Erwin Chemerinsky, founding dean of the University of California, Irvine School of Law, said that the concept of colorblindness holds great rhetorical appeal but that “there is no basis for concluding that the 14th Amendment equal protection clause requires colorblindness.” In drafting the 14th Amendment, he said, Congress recognized “an enormous difference between a white majority disadvantaging minorities and a white majority acting to remedy past discrimination.”

C’mon Erwin. The text of the relevant portion of the Amendment reads

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

It’s fine to conclude that based on one’s own understanding of the text, history, proper modes of interpretation and so on, the Fourteenth Amendment doesn’t require colorblindness. But surely the fact that the Amendment is itself textually “color blind,” and speaks only of “persons” and not groups, and shows no textual evidence that Congress recognized “an enormous difference between a white majority disadvantaging minorities and a white majority acting to remedy past discrimination” is itself “a basis,” even if you don’t find it persuasive, for concluding otherwise. And of course there are other reasons one could reasonably interpret the Fourteenth Amendment to require color-blindness (the natural rights tradition, alluded to in this context often by Clarence Thomas; the historic concern with and opposition to “faction”; the mistrust of states, especially the southern states and especially with regard to race, after the Civil War; the historic Plessy dissent by Justice Harlan on that basis; and so on).

So I’m not saying that it’s wrong to think that the Constitution doesn’t require color-blindness. It’s a difficult interpretive issue. But I think it’s unfortunate when legal scholars wildly overstate the certainty of things in public discourse because they happen to support one side of a controversy.