AG Holder, With Backing of White House, Takes Shot at CJ Roberts On Race

May 18th, 2014

It wasn’t enough for Justice Sotomayor in dissent in Schuette to call Chief Justice Roberts “out of touch with reality.” Now, the Attorney General, with the backing of the White House, has launched a similar shot at the Chief.

AG Holder delivered the commencement address at Morgan State University, and took a shot at Roberts, with an assist to Sotomayor.

Speaking at commencement exercises for historically-black Morgan State University in Baltimore, Holder alluded to high-profile controversies over racial comments by figured like rancher Clive Bundy and L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling, but said that it’s a mistake to think that America’s most serious racial problems stem from repugnant public statements. The attorney general argued that it’s more important to end policies that perpetuate racial differences than to dwell on occasional spurts of racist rhetoric.

“Chief Justice John Roberts has argued that the path to ending racial discrimination is to give less consideration to the issue of race altogether. This presupposes that racial discrimination is at a sufficiently low ebb that it doesn’t need to be actively confronted. In its most obvious forms, it might be. But discrimination does not always come in the form of a hateful epithet or a Jim Crow-like statute,” Holder declared. “And so we must continue to take account of racial inequality, especially in its less obvious forms, and actively discuss ways to combat it.”

Holder was referring to Roberts’s plurality opinion in 2007 case which overturned the Seattle public school system’s use of race to improve diversity. “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race,” the chief justice wrote.

The attorney general made clear again Saturday that he prefers the formulation Justice Sonia Sotomayor offered in her dissent from a Supreme Court ruling last month on Michigan’s affirmative action ban.

“We must not ‘wish away, rather than confront, the racial inequality that exists in our society. …The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race,” Holder said, quoting Sotomayor rephrasing Roberts.

WaPo reports that the speech was vetted by the White House, so we know this message came from on high.

The Saturday address — which aides said was vetted by the White House — was centered more squarely on the issues that have animated Holder in the twilight of his tenure, particularly criminal-sentencing policies and voter-identification laws.

Does anyone with a longer sense of history than me, recall the last time the Attorney General has called out a Justice for an opinion he or she wrote, in this manner?