A little over two years ago, a black man educated at Ivy League schools was democratically elected to the most powerful office in the world. Most people saw the election of Obama to the U.S. presidency as decisive evidence that affirmative action policies are no longer necessary, if they ever were. Obama seemed to agree with that; while running for president he admitted that when his daughters apply to college, they “should probably be treated by any admissions officer as folks who are pretty advantaged.” Yet in spite of a slight trend in high court decisions striking down affirmative action, and ballot initiatives spearheaded by Ward Connerly passing around the country banning affirmative action, the Obama administration has taken the opposite route, continuing to mandate and expand affirmative action policies.
The Obama administration is aggressively using federal agencies to expand affirmative action. Hospitals and healthcare providers recently received notice from the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) that they are “federal contractors” based on their TRICARE participation and must provide OFCCP with an affirmative action plan or risk being audited and fined. This surprised many hospitals, since they do not have contracts with the federal government in regards to TRICARE.
Obama is working with Democrats in Congress to implement more affirmative action. The Obamacare legislation contains race-based preferences. Contractors who demonstrate efforts to train individuals from underrepresented minority groups will receive preferences when applying for contracts from the Department of Health and Human Services. The federal stimulus funds also include preferences. Since the Recovery Act dollars come from the federal government, they are subject to federal law set-asides for “Disadvantaged Business Enterprises,” which include minorities and women.
Two years ago, Obama rejected a proposed federal rule that would have reduced gender preferences for women in contracting. The reduction was proposed due to finding that women were only underrepresented in contracting agreements in four out of 140 recognized industries. Obama signed a spending bill instead that affirmed federal law requiring that at least five percent of federal contracts go to women-owned businesses. This goes against a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruling handed down just a few months earlier in 2008, which struck down a Defense Department rule that funneled billions of dollars annually into defense contracts for minority and women-owned firms.
The Obama administration has proactively intervened in high-profile lawsuits defending affirmative action. In 2008, the Obama administration filed an amicus brief in federal court in favor of upholding a race-conscious admissions system at the University of Texas at Austin. That case is currently at the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The Department of Justice again intervened in the Ricci v. DeStefano lawsuit, defending the City of New Haven’s race preferences against the white firefighter plaintiffs. The Supreme Court came down on the side of the white firefighters in 2009 – reversing the decision by the Court of Appeals of which Obama’s Supreme Court appointee Sonia Sotomayor had previously been a part of.
Obama is implementing his own unofficial form of affirmative action by appointing minorities and women who support race and gender preferences to top posts in his administration, ensuring its perpetuation. Most of them were educated in Ivy League schools and did not come from disadvantaged backgrounds - providing more evidence that affirmative action is not necessary. Sotamayor graduated from Princeton and Yale. Eric Holder, Obama’s Attorney General, graduated from Columbia. Jacqueline Berrien, a graduate of Harvard Law School and former Associate Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, was appointed by Obama to head the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
There are indications that the Department of Justice is engaging in reverse discrimination by selectively enforcing voting rights. Last year, the DOJ dropped charges that had been brought by the Bush administration against two New Black Panther Party members for voter intimidation at a Philadelphia polling place in 2008 – even though the court was likely to rule against the defendants. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights was asked to investigate the dismissal, and their final report is about to be released. The DOJ has also made it clear that it intends to use outdated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to favor minorities when redistricting Congressional districts, even though there is no longer evidence of real discrimination.
When affirmative action was first set in place by presidential Executive Orders in the 1960s, it was intended to ensure that qualified minorities and women were not being overlooked. “Affirmative action” was never designed to give them preferences over others who were equally qualified. The far left and their counterparts in the courts have taken the plain wording of these orders and used it to justify preferences and quotas. Ironically, that same wording is now used in ballot initiatives Ward Connerly runs in various states to ban affirmative action.
By continuing to promote affirmative action, Obama is catering to a radical constituency on the left. Polling reveals that substantial majorities of Americans want to end affirmative action. If there was any issue where it would make sense for Obama to diverge from the left, it is affirmative action. Obama’s father comes from a powerful Kenyan tribe, and had the wealth and connections to send him to Harvard. There is speculation that ancestors of both Obama’s father and mother may have been slave owners. It is a disappointment that someone with such a privileged upbringing and success in life would ironically perpetuate increasingly irrelevant and harmful practices.