Archive | Racial Discrimination

Nichelle Nichols and MLK

Of the various radio and TV and internet items today related to MLK that I heard, the one that caught my attention most was an interview with Nichelle Nichols, who played Uhura on Star Trek.  I heard it on NPR, but here is a transcript from the Wall Street Journal Speakeasy blog.

It sounds like you put a lot of thought into the part. Why did you want to quit after the first season?

After the first year, Grace Lee Whitney was let go so it became Bill and Leonard. The rest of us became supporting characters. I decided to leave the show after the first season.

What convinced you to stay on?

I was at a fundraiser and the promoter of the event said there’s somebody that wants to meet you. He is your biggest fan. I stood up and turned to see the beatific face of Dr. Martin Luther King walking towards me with a sparkle in his eye. He took my hand and thanked me for meeting him. He then said I am your greatest fan. All I remember is my mouth opening and shutting.

What was that like?

I thanked him so much and told him how I’d miss it all. He asked what I was talking about, and told me that I can’t leave the show. We talked a long time about what it all meant and what images on television tell us about ourselves.

Did you know then how much of a role model you’d become?

Oh, god, no. I thought of it as a stepping stone to Broadway. I went back to Gene and told him what had happened, and that I was staying. He smiled up at me and said, thank god for Dr. Martin Luther King.

My feeling exactly. [...]

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“Justice Souter’s Bad Constitutional History”

Last month, retired Justice David Souter delivered the commencement address at Harvard.  His speech was a veiled challenge to proponents of originalism. Some commentators, such as Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, Slate‘s Dahlia Lithwick,  and TalkLeft’s Big Tent Democrat were impressed.  Others, not so much.

In today’s WSJ, Northwestern University’s John McGinnis and USD’s Michael Rappaport take issue with Justice Souter, suggesting he misunderstands original meaning jurisprudence and inadvertently justifies the jurisprudential methodology that produced such horrors as Plessy v. Ferguson.  Here is a taste:

At the recent Harvard commencement, retired Supreme Court Justice David Souter attacked what he regards as the “simplistic” model of giving the Constitution a “fair reading.” A judge, he said, must determine which of the conflicting constitutional values should become our fundamental law by taking account of new social realities. . . .

Justice Souter actually provided a primer on how not to be a judge. He made up a Constitution that never was to justify a kind of judicial power that was never intended. . . .

Justice Souter recognizes that his method of interpreting the Constitution is indeterminate, but he argues that it is necessary to put our trust in justices to reach just results. The historical reality is that this interpretive method permitted justices to create a Constitution of their own contrivance in the service of injustice.

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Public Opinion, Anti-Discrimination Law, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964

One of the most common rationales for anti-discrimination law is that it is needed to protect unpopular minority groups against exclusion from jobs and other opportunities. This conventional wisdom has a significant weakness: If the group in question really is unpopular with the majority, a democratic government is highly unlikely to enact antidiscrimination laws protecting it. In order for such laws to be adopted, the majority of voters probably already has to believe that discrimination against that group is wrong. But if that is the view of majority opinion, then it is improbable that a legal ban on discrimination will greatly improve the status of the group. Most businesses and employers would likely adopt a nondiscrimination policy of their own accord, either because their owners agree with the majority view, or because competitive pressures force them to hire productive minority workers and serve paying minority customers even if they are personally hostile to the group in question. Or at least they will do so in the absence of the kind of government and private violence that constrained integration in the pre-1964 South.

Some, like George Will in his recent criticism of Rand Paul, argue that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was an exception to this, and that it actually changed white public opinion, rather than followed it:

The simple fact is that in 1964, we, as a nation, repealed one widely-exercised right – the right of private property owners to serve on public accommodations whom they want – and replaced it with another right, that is the right of the entire American public to use public accommodations,” Will said.

“We were correct to do so and in the process, we refuted an old notion: that you cannot – and this may offend some libertarians – the notion was

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Libertarianism, Federalism, and Racism

The firestorm kicked off by Rand Paul’s remarks has again rekindled the debate about the relationship between libertarianism, federalism, and efforts to combat racial discrimination. There is nothing unlibertarian about supporting federal efforts to combat racial discrimination by state governments. At the same time, however, libertarians (and others) should not assume that unconstrained federal power necessarily benefits oppressed minority groups.

I. Libertarianism and Federal Efforts to Combat Racist State Policies.

As David Bernstein explains, libertarianism is a theory of the relationship between individuals and government, not a theory of the relationship between different levels of government. Thus, there is nothing unlibertarian about one level of government (the federal) intervening to curb the racist oppression of another (state or local). Indeed, such policies actually promote libertarian ends to the extent that they prevent state or local governments from taking away the freedom of blacks or or other minority groups.

Not surprisingly, 1960s libertarians such as Ayn Rand did in fact favor federal action to curb discrimination against blacks by southern state governments. Rand, for example specifically denounced the use of “states’ rights” as justification for Jim Crow in several of her works in the 1960s. In Capitalism and Freedom, written in 1962, Milton Friedman criticized the Jim Crow policies of southern state governments and emphasized that “forced integration” of public schools was preferable to “forced segregation,” though he also argued that both could be avoided by adopting school choice policies. As David notes, many 19th and early 20th century antislavery and civil rights activists – including William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, and many of the founders NAACP, such as Moorfield Storey – held what would today be considered libertarian views on economic and social policy. They saw no contradiction between that and favoring federal action against slavery and later [...]

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