The Reagan administration’s assault on the rights of minorities and women has focused on the existing policy of affirmative action. This strategy may be shrewd politics but it is mean-spirited morally and insupportable legally.
The attack on affirmative action is only a small part of this administration’s campaign against the hard-won rights of blacks, women, and other groups that suffer the inequities of society. Since 1964 this country has developed and refined a body of constitutional, statutory, and regulatory approaches designed to exorcise the existence and effects of the racism and sexism so deeply entrenched in our society. Until 1981 all of our presidents, to a greater or lesser extent, contributed to this effort, even when, like Richard Nixon, they were less than enthusiastic. The Reagan administration has broken with this tradition. President Reagan’s spokespeople—Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights William Bradford Reynolds and Reagan’s Civil Rights Commission appointees Clarence Pendleton and Morris Abram—declare their unlimited devotion to fighting discrimination and furthering civil rights, and in Abram’s case there is an honorable track record. But the administration’s record has been one of across-the-board hostility to civil rights, and though the politically potent issue of affirmative action may have dominated rhetorically, it actually represents only part of the offensive....
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