The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a piece of legislation that all Americans should be proud of as it helped to enshrine in law the principle of equality of opportunity for everyone. In particular, Title VII of the Act loudly and clearly forbids employers from discriminating based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin in regard to the hiring, promoting, and paying of employees. As the Act declares:
“It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer –
(1) to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin; or
(2) to limit, segregate, or classify his employees or applicants for employment in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”
However, when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was being debated in the Senate, some senators were wary about voting for it as they feared it would lead to discrimination in the form of quotas for certain groups. In particular, they believed that the law would be used to force companies to hire minorities on the basis of their skin color, rather than their competence, to satisfy certain quotas. They argued that this would be no different than Jim Crow laws that likewise made companies hire on the basis of skin color. To replace one form of discrimination with another would never lead to a truly color-blind society.
To allay these rational fears, the Senate floor manager of the bill, Democratic Senator Hubert Humphrey, explicitly stated that the bill forbade quotas in any form in favor or any group. Humphrey declared that the bill “would prohibit preferential treatment for any particular group” and added: “Do you want a society that is nothing but an endless power struggle among organized groups?” Humphrey asked. “Do you want a society where there is no place for the individual? I don’t.” He then famously quipped: “I will eat my hat if this leads to racial quotas.”
Senator Humphrey, welcome to America in 2022—it is time to eat your hat.
Almost every major company and level of government in America now gives preferential treatment to racial and ethnic minorities and women, and have hiring, promotion, and training quotas for such groups.
For example, NASDAQ has just instituted a policy requiring all companies listed on the exchange to have at least one minority and one woman on their boards. Google aims to have 30% of its leadership positions filled by racial and ethnic minorities and other “underrepresented groups” by 2025. The New York Jobs CEO Council, whose members include JP Morgan Chase, IBM, Accenture, Amazon, Google, Goldman Sachs, and Microsoft, openly stated that its member companies are aiming to hire at least 100,000 new Black, Hispanic, and Asian Americans by 2030. Walgreens has recently declared that each year it will increase the number of minorities and women in leadership roles by 2% and 3% respectively. The Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences is now requiring hard racial, ethnic, and sex quotas for a movie to be considered for the “Best Picture” category. United Airlines announced in the spring that 50% of all new pilots it trains will be minorities or women. The NFL has rigid quotas for minorities and women when hiring for leadership positions. Many, if not most, federal, state and local governments and most larger corporations openly have “diversity and inclusion” measures built into the annual performance plans of managers and other leaders that base successful reviews, promotions, and bonuses on the number of minorities and women who are hired, retained, and promoted.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
The question remains: When will Congress or the Supreme Court have the courage to forbid preferential treatment and quotas for certain groups? The plain language of the law, backed up by the legislative history of the bill in the form of Senator Humphreys’ assurances, clearly forbids such discriminatory actions.
America will never become a race-blind, ethnic-blind, and sex-blind society as long as it permits open discrimination in favor of some groups and against others. Indeed, these actions are ensuring that Jim Crow is still alive and well in America. It is time for Americans of good will to rise up to demand an end to this discrimination. Otherwise Senator Humphrey will have to posthumously eat his hat. (And I hear it does not taste good.)