FRANK RICCI AND SONIA SOTOMAYOR.

The Frank Ricci Affirmative Action case has become something of a cause celebre for old white guys in Washington, because it proves what they already knew: Life is stacked against them. They can't get a break.  Ricci was denied a promotion because of an archaic affirmative action law that throws out the test if only white takers pass. This, columnists like Richard Cohen believe, is something Obama should really consider when picking the next Supreme Court Justice:

Liberalism, a movement in which I hold a conditional membership, would be wise to get wise to what has happened. Blatant affirmative action always entailed a disturbing and ex post facto changing of the rules -- oops, you're white. Sorry, not what we wanted. As a consequence, it was not racists who were punished but all whites. There is no need to cling to such a remedy anymore. There is, though, every need to retain and strengthen anti-discrimination laws, especially in areas such as fire departments, where racial discrimination was once endemic. Sufficient progress has been made to revert to treating individuals as individuals. After all, it is not some amorphous entity called "whites" who will suffer: It is un-lieutenant Ricci.

Affirmative action was installed as a corrective against bigotry, a way to ensure qualified people were not passed over because of arbitrary conditions of their race or gender -- not as a "punishment" for whites, although it's not surprising to me that Cohen sees it that way. The fact that white women have been the greatest beneficiaries of affirmative action goes unmentioned because it's harder to make the case that "white people" have been hurt, because in the end, "white people" have benefited more than anyone else. "There's no need to cling to such a remedy anymore," says Cohen, who shares the WaPo op-ed page with a single black columnist.

The reaction to Sonia Sotomayor makes the perfect case for why we still need affirmative action. She's been a federal judge since the early 1990s, she served as an ADA in Manhattan, she's worked in private practice. On paper, she's qualified, but yesterday Jeffrey Rosen, admittedly knowing next to nothing about her, wrote that the summa cum laude from Yale Law School Princeton might not be "that smart." The folks at National Review got the signal. "So she's dumb and obnoxious. Got it," wrote Mark Hemingway. Responded John Derbyshire, "Judge Sotomayor may indeed be dumb and obnoxious; but she's also female and Hispanic and those are the things that count nowadays." This from someone who believes that social statistics prove that whites as a group are smarter than say, black people. Mark Krikorian concluded that "I'm sure Mark H. is right about Sotomayor's being dumb and obnoxious, just as Derb is right about her being female and Hispanic is all the matters," but that "an Hispanic Supreme Court justice is an almost mandatory consolation prize for the amnesty folks."

In short, everyone agrees that Sotomayor is an idiot, based on an anonymous quote solicited by Rosen, who admits that he hasn't "read enough of Sonia Sotomayor’s opinions to have a confident sense of them," and that he hasn't "talked to enough of Sonia Sotomayor’s detractors and supporters to get a fully balanced picture of her strengths."

This is exactly what affirmative action is meant to correct: People coming to the arbitrary conclusion that someone is "an idiot" despite all evidence to the contrary, except if you consider not being a white man evidence. Sotomayor's detractors see themselves as Frank Riccis, white men whose greatness isn't recognized because we're too busy giving brown people who can't tie their shoes certificates of achievement. But the truth is that in life and in employment, discrimination rarely manifests itself the way it did against Ricci, as something as easy to quantify as an unfair test. It's far more insidious -- a rumor, a feeling, a notion that the person standing in front of you who doesn't look like you is just "dumb and obnoxious." So you throw their resume in the "no" pile because you don't like their name, you seat them in the back of the class, you promote another person. You just can't really explain why. It's... just a feeling.

Via Glenn Greenwald

-- A. Serwer

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