Stephen Haile is a devoted foster parent, who, with his wife, has fostered more than 300 children in Conway, Arkansas. As a foster parent, he has worked with numerous social workers and even helped a struggling single parent regain custody of her children.
Through those experiences, Stephen has grown increasingly aware of the importance of transparency between social workers and foster parents in providing the best-possible environment for the children in their care. This strong belief sparked his interest in the Arkansas Social Work Licensing Board and its purpose of regulating the practice of social work in the state.
The board consists of nine members, all of whom are appointed by the governor with the consent of the state senate. State law requires the board to include three licensed certified social workers, two licensed master social workers, one licensed social worker, one psychiatrist, and one member of the public at large.
The final seat is filled by a “representative of the elderly,” that is, someone who is at least 60 years old and not actively engaged in, nor retired from, professional social work—someone just like Stephen. Not only did he meet the criteria to serve as a representative of the elderly, but Steven also served on a foster parent board and was eager to leverage that experience on the social work board.
Stephen’s opportunity arose in June 2022, when three board seats became available, including that of the representative of the elderly. Unfortunately, Stephen was excluded from consideration—because he is white.
In addition to professional and experience-related criteria, state law also required the board to have at least two African American members. It so happens that the seat Stephen hopes to fill was one that the governor planned to reserve to meet Arkansas’ race quota. While the governor can appoint qualified African Americans to any two seats on the board, two seats would have forever been inaccessible to individuals of all other races.
The government, however, cannot implement racial quotas that strip opportunities for people like Stephen, who simply wants to serve children and families in his community.
Represented at no charge by Pacific Legal Foundation, Stephen fought back. His federal lawsuit challenged the racial quota for the Arkansas Social Work Licensing Board as violating the Constitution’s equal protection guarantee.
In March 2023, the Arkansas Legislature passed, and Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed, a law that abolished the race quota for the Social Work Licensing Board. Now all Arkansans can be considered for the board based on their individual qualifications and not the color of their skin. With the quota eliminated, Stephen voluntarily dismissed his lawsuit.