Scott wrote here about Hubert Humphrey and his support for civil rights legislation that may or may not have been color-blind. A long-time reader with world-class expertise in this area of the law writes:
It is questionable whether Humphrey opposed quotas on principle even in 1964, when he so forcefully insisted that the Civil Rights Act he was sponsoring would not permit them. Humphrey’s assurances were necessary to win support for the legislation from moderates like Senate Minority Leader Dirksen. They also were intended, I believe, to protect liberal Democrats in unionized states, where organized labor feared that quotas would trump seniority. The threat that this perception posed to liberal Democrats is evident from the success George Wallace had with white voters in Democratic primaries held in 1964 in Wisconsin, Indiana, and Maryland.
Humphrey presumably hoped that blacks would achieve something approaching equality of outcomes through equality of opportunity. But it’s doubtful that he was ever committed as a matter of principle to an equality of opportunity that could not produce equal outcomes.
Humphrey’s December 1972 statement against race-based preferential treatment (on prudential grounds) was consistent with the position of the Democratic Party and the mainstream civil rights movement in the very early 1970s. The Nixon administration – led by Leonard Garment, the President’s counsel, and George Shultz, the Secretary of Labor, and assisted by Labor Solicitor Laurence Silberman – ordered hiring quotas for black apprentices in the Philadelphia construction industry. Liberal Democrats opposed this order, known as the Philadelphia Plan. Clarence Mitchell, director of the NAACP, called it a “calculated attempt coming right from the President’s desk to break up the coalition between Negroes and labor unions.” And Gus Hawkins, the prominent black Democratic congressman, complained that “Nixon’s people are forcing employers to lay off workers and then telling them to put in a certain quota of blacks into these vacancies. It is a strategy designed to increase friction between labor and Negroes.”
The Democrats soon changed their position on quotas, as did the Republicans to some extent. The Republican position became one of ambivalence. In the mid-1980s, for example, a majority of Senate Republicans signed a letter urging President Reagan to continue the use of certain preferences. And even the George W. Bush administration arguably attempted to split the difference in the University of Michigan preferential admissions policy cases.
In fairness to the Nixon era Republicans, quota hiring in the construction industry of that time was far more defensible than subsequent preferences. Certain unions that controlled hiring in some big cities had for years flatly refused to comply with court orders mandating fair hiring. Under these circumstances, the short-term use of numerical remedies can probably be defended as the only practical method of ensuring something approaching equal opportunity.
In addition, it can be argued that for desegregation to be effective in an industry or work environment pervaded by racism, a critical mass of black hires is necessary at the outset. Otherwise, working conditions for “pioneer” blacks may be intolerable.
These special case arguments in favor of preferential treatment plainly have no applicability these days. They are basically one-shot arguments whose sell-by date probably had expired by the time Democrats began openly to embrace numerical “goals and timetables,” i.e., quotas and preferences.
These days, it is all about the money. The ability to dictate hiring equals the ability to come through for constituencies who have contributed many millions of dollars to the Democratic Party’s coffers. Quotas mean dollars, so they will continue unless and until the majority of Americans understand what is happening and care enough to change it.