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The Evolution Of Race In The Law

    • The Evolution Of Race In The Law: The Supreme Court Moves From Approving Internment Of Japanese Americans To Disapproving Affirmative Action For African Americans, Reggie Oh and Frank Wu, 1 Mich. J. Race & L. 165 -193, 165-166 (1996). Copyright (C) 1996 Michigan Journal of Race & Law; Reggie Oh, Frank Wu. 

Over the past fifty years, the United States Supreme Court has articulated the constitutional standards for the governmental use of racial classifications by referring repeatedly to its wartime decisions on the Japanese American internment. Those decisions were understood then as being emphatically not about race, but have been understood since as being equally emphatically based upon acquiescence to racism. In the past year, with the most recent race cases that have been handed down by the Court, especially its affirmative action decision, the doctrines that have given substance to the constitutional guarantee of equal protection have become increasingly problematic. The awkward development of the doctrines can be traced to their origins. During World War II, the Supreme Court decided the historic case of Korematsu v. United States. There, the Court approved the internment of Japanese Americans as a racial group without individual determinations of political loyalty. The case is one of the "justly infamous episode[s]" in the history of the American judiciary. . . . It remains the best known constitutional challenge brought by Asian Americans as well as the most important source of the standard known as "strict scrutiny," which marks the constitutional limits of the public use of racial classifications and private use of racial generalizations. In its 1994-1995 Term, the Supreme Court decided the similarly significant case of Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Pena. There, the Court effectively disapproved of affirmative action for African Americans and other racial minorities as strongly as it would of racism against these groups. The Adarand opinion affects not only so-called "reverse discrimination" but also conventional discrimination. It applies "strict scrutiny" to all racial references in the law, regardless of the underlying intent, impact, or context. As the Court suggests, the Korematsu precedent is crucial to the Adarand decision. In Adarand, the Court analyzes Korematsu in depth, acknowledging that its own judgment had been mistaken in the internment cases, instead of simply citing the decisions as it formally had done until the very recent past. The Court nevertheless fails to appreciate the differences between Korematsu and Adarand, and in particular the consequences of using "strict scrutiny" for all racial classifications. This essay explores the complex relation-ship between Korematsu and Adarand, and offers a critique of the reasoning used in both cases. The essay argues that Adarand may permit invidious racial classifications to survive constitutional challenge and that its analysis of the standing issues associated with collateral litigation over affirmative action are inconsistent with its resolution of substantive issues of racial discrimination. [BACK   What's Wrong With This Picture?