Those looking for good news these days can find it in a March 23 Supreme Court decision recognizing that sometimes people really do take actions based on factors other than race.
Even better, the court decision was unanimous. Great racial comity may result.
In Comcast v. National Association of African American-Owned Media, all nine justices agreed that in a tort lawsuit alleging racial discrimination, the plaintiff must prove that the business decision in question was indeed motivated by — get this — actual racial discrimination. Amazingly, common sense prevails.
Of course, for years, at least in contexts other than tort law, the Supreme Court has been narrowly and often bitterly divided about whether mere racial disparities, even without proof of racial intent, serve as grounds enough to penalize a defendant for racial discrimination. Sometimes the court’s race-related reasoning has been so convoluted that it invites more controversy into more cases, rather than giving a clear, easily applied answer. In one example, Grutter v. Bollinger in 2003, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote for a bare 5-4 court majority that, in effect, the exact same legal standards for race-based remedies somehow should be applied differently 25 years hence than it was then.
In short, the court has let confusion reign in numerous areas of racial discrimination law.
That’s why the March 23 Comcast case was a welcome relief. To see all nine justices agree on a bright-line test for what does and doesn’t amount to unlawful discrimination is to believe legal sanity can return. (Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg did write separately to take exception on one procedural front but otherwise joined the unanimous result.)
What’s especially encouraging is that the justices got it right.
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