Iowa AG warns Fortune 100 companies over race-based policies

Sam Stockard and Anita Wadhwani report for the Tennessee Lookout, which is is part of the States Newsroom network. This article first appeared at Iowa Capital Dispatch.

Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird is among a coalition warning the nation’s largest companies—many of which have diversity and equity programs—they could face legal action for using race-based policies.

A July 13 letter from Bird and twelve other attorneys general put Fortune 100 companies on notice they could be hit with legal action for violating the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Students for Fair Admissions v. President & Fellows of Harvard College, which put an end to using race as a basis for admitting students to college. The attorneys general are targeting hiring and contracting too.

“As the Supreme Court recently emphasized, both our Constitution and our civil rights laws guarantee every American the right to be free from racial discrimination,” Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti said in a release. “The Court’s reasoning means that companies, no matter their motivation, cannot treat people differently based on the color of their skin. Corporate America continues to have many avenues to help disadvantaged people and communities of all races without resorting to crude racial line-drawing.”

The letter compares policies within many Fortune 100 companies to slavery and racial segregation.

“In an inversion of the odious discriminatory practices of the distant past, today’s major companies adopt explicitly race-based initiatives which are similarly illegal,” the letter says, pointing toward “racial quotas” in hiring, recruiting, retention, promotion and advancement.

The letter immediately reminds companies they must refrain from “discriminating on the basis of race, whether under the label of ‘diversity, equity and inclusion’ or otherwise. Treating people differently because of the color of their skin, even for benign purposes, is unlawful and wrong.”

The Supreme Court ruling struck down race-based admissions policies at Harvard College and the University of North Carolina.

The letter says the court’s decision “reinforced the principle that all racial discrimination, no matter the motivation, is insidious and unlawful,” which means eliminating “all of it.”

The attorneys general asked the companies to comply with race-neutral principles in their employment and hiring practices.

The letter further says: “If your company previously resorted to racial preferences or naked quotas to offset its bigotry, that discriminatory path is now definitively closed. Your company must overcome its underlying bias and treat all employees, all applicants, and all contractors equally, without regard for race.”

The letter, addressed “Dear Fortune 100 CEOs,” targets JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs, as well as Airbnb, Apple, Cisco, Facebook, Google, Intel, Lyft, Microsoft, Netflix, Paypal, Snapchat, TikTok, Uber and others.

Among the nation’s top 100 companies doing business in Iowa are Wells Fargo and Deere & Co., which have ongoing diversity and inclusion corporate initiatives.

“At Wells Fargo, we believe that focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion is key to being one of the world’s great companies. It’s a business imperative that lets us take advantage of the creation and innovation that comes from multiple perspectives,” the financial services company says on its website.

Deere & Co.’s website cites a diverse workforce as part of a global mission: “The world is counting on us to feed billions of people and build vital infrastructure in villages, towns, and megacities. We believe by strengthening the diversity of our workforce, we can give everyone their chance to leap forward. That’s why we celebrate diversity, champion equity, and promote inclusiveness so every employee can make the greatest impact as their true self.”

Yet the letter from attorneys general quotes the Supreme Court’s rejection of racial quotas and preferences, saying the court wrote in 2007 in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District: “[Racial] classifications promote ‘notions of racial inferiority and lead to a politics of racial hostility, ‘reinforce the belief, held by too many for too much of our history, that individuals should be judged by the color of their skin,’ and ‘endorse race-based reasoning and the conception of a Nation divided into racial blocs, thus contributing to an escalation of racial hostility and conflict.”

Sections prohibiting racial discrimination in employment are taken from the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to make their attorneys general legal argument.

Top image: Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird stands in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building on February 28, 2023. Photo first published on Bird’s political Facebook page.

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  • Lengthy, but worth it. The essay bybDavid Chung appears in Sunday’s CR gazette

    I’m reading your essay celebrating the Supreme Court’s reversal of affirmative action. Your lone citation of a Justice Thomas remark is an underwhelming example of Thomas’ thinking, as described in numerous texts, but especially in “The Enigma of Clarence Thomas,” 2019, by Corey Robin, which details Thomas’ belief that affirmative action:

    1) reinforces the stigma that shadows African-Americans. In the same way that enslavement marked all black people, free or slave, as inferior, affirmative action—here Thomas borrows directly from the language of Plessy v. Ferguson—stamps all African-Americans with “a badge of inferiority.”
    2) continues white supremacy is by elevating whites to the status of benefactors, doling out scarce privileges to those black people they deem worthy. The most remarkable element of Thomas’s affirmative-action jurisprudence (says Robon), and what makes it unlike that of any other Justice on the Supreme Court, is how much attention he devotes to whites, not as victims but as perpetrators, the lead actors in a racial drama of their own imagination. Put simply, Thomas believes that affirmative action is a white program for white people.

    Legal scholar Mark Graber argues, (writes Robin) “Thomas questioned whether desegregation was a constitutional value.” If anything, Thomas believes that the state should—where it can, within the law—support the separation of the races. Looking back on his education, in an all-black environment, Thomas has admitted to wanting to “turn back the clock” to a time “when we had our own schools.” Much of his jurisprudence is devoted to undoing the “grand experiment” of which he believes himself to be a victim. As he made clear in 1986, “I have been the guinea pig for many social experiments on social minorities. To all who would continue these experiments, I say please ‘no more.’ ”

    Robin…His defenders believe that Thomas is advancing a common conservative line—that affirmative action is a form of reverse racism, which imposes illegitimate burdens on whites. In fact, Thomas’s arguments are considerably more unorthodox than that. According to Thomas, affirmative action is the most recent attempt by white people to brand and belittle black people as inferior. Affirmative action does not formally mirror the tools of white supremacy; for Thomas, it is the literal continuation of white supremacy.

    In her June 29 and 30 issues of Letters from an American, Heather Cox Richardson singles out the term “colorblind” as important to understanding the ruling:

    The Court’s decision in Students for Fair Admissions, Inc., v. President and Fellows of Harvard College rules that universities cannot consider race as a category in student admissions, the Supreme Court has highlighted a central contradiction in its interpretation of government power: if the Fourteenth Amendment limits the federal government to making sure that there is no discrimination in the United States on the basis of race—the so-called “colorblind” Constitution—as the right-wing justices argued (June 29), it is up to the states to make sure that state laws don’t discriminate against minorities. But that requires either protecting voting rights or accepting minority rule. (emphasis added)

    More is at stake in this case than affirmative action in university admissions. The decision involves the central question of whether the law is colorblind or whether it can be used to fix long-standing racial inequality. Does the Fourteenth Amendment, ratified in 1868 to enable the federal government to overrule state laws that discriminated against Black Americans, allow the courts to enforce measures to address historic discrimination? (emphasis added)

    Letters from an American