The attack on DEI is a start to attack the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The attack on DEI is a start to attack the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The Attorneys General’s Letter: A Cynical Political Game

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In a recent letter signed by attorneys general from various states across the country, questionable legal arguments are being made in an attempt to undermine corporate diversity initiatives and redefine the concept of racial discrimination. However, upon closer examination, it becomes evident that these arguments lack both legal merit and an understanding of the historical context in which civil rights legislation was enacted.

The primary argument put forward in the letter suggests that the recent ruling in the case of Students for Fair Admissions v. President & Fellows of Harvard College has rendered “explicit racial quotas” illegal. This claim overlooks the fact that racial quotas have been prohibited under the Civil Rights Act since the Supreme Court’s decision in Regents of University of California v. Bakke in 1978. This established legal precedent, spanning over four decades, is conveniently ignored in favor of threatening America’s largest companies.

So, if the attorneys general letter isn’t about new legal implications arising from the recent affirmative action decision, what is it really about? In the short term, it seems that Republicans are aiming to further deter corporate diversity initiatives that are already under scrutiny. Recent controversies involving companies like Disney and Anheuser-Busch have raised concerns among CEOs, who may now worry about attracting the attention of right-wing ideologues. The attorneys general seem intent on fostering an environment of fear, hoping that employers will dismantle their diversity, equity, and inclusion programs to avoid potential lawsuits.

However, the long-term consequences of this letter may be even more troubling. It represents the first salvo in Republicans’ broader efforts to attack Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and redefine the very notion of racial discrimination. The Civil Rights Act was initially designed to address the “history of unequal treatment” inflicted upon Black Americans as a result of years of abuse, bigotry, and subjugation. By suggesting that America has somehow solved racism and that laws protecting Black employees from racial slurs should now be race-neutral, these attorneys general disregard the persistent racial disparities in wealth, income, and professional advancement that continue to define American life.

The notion that our current environment differs significantly from the circumstances that led to the enactment of the Civil Rights Act is not only laughable but also undermines the fundamental purpose of the legislation. We cannot ignore the disingenuous nature of these arguments, which do not honor legal precedent or legislative history. If left unchallenged, they have the potential to erode the progress made under the guise of darkness. Our silence would be complicity in their endeavor.

In a time when public sector institutions may fail us, the private sector becomes an essential line of defense. It is crucial for every CEO to pay attention to these developments and decide which side of history they wish to be on. As the great Maya Angelou wisely said, “When people show you who they are, believe them.” We can no longer turn a blind eye to what is evident. The far-right has revealed their intentions, and we must believe them and take action.

Alphonso David, a civil rights attorney and the president and CEO of the Global Black Economic Forum, reminds us that the views expressed in this piece are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of Fortune.

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