Government regulatory boards are commonplace for countless professions throughout the country. Tennessee podiatrists are no exception, falling under the purview of the state Board of Podiatric Medical Examiners. Legislatively created in 1931, the board’s members must be licensed podiatrists for at least two years.
Another requirement of board membership, however, has nothing to do with podiatry and everything to do with stifling equality before the law; one board member must also be a racial minority.
For more than three decades, Tennessee governors have been required to engage in racial discrimination when making appointments to public boards. The podiatry board is no different—two separate statutes require the governor to ensure that there is a minority appointee serving at all times. In fact, one of the two board seats that opened in June 2023 is reserved for a racial minority. There is no shortage of qualified podiatrists in Tennessee who would competently serve on the board, but no appointments have been made as of October 9, 2023.
Interested Tennesseans include a member of Do No Harm, a nonprofit organization of over 6,000 physicians, healthcare professionals, medical students, patients, and policymakers committed to ensuring equality in healthcare. Do No Harm’s podiatrist member would like to be considered for the open board seat, but he would be excluded because of his race.
It’s wrong for the government to make assumptions about people’s experiences and qualifications based on arbitrary and offensive assumptions about race. And it’s unconstitutional.
No government commission or committee should use an individual’s race or ethnicity to determine who gets the opportunity to serve their public. Treating people according to immutable characteristics like race violates the very notion of equality before the law. People should be treated as individuals, not as members of a group they did not choose.
Represented by PLF at no charge, Do No Harm is fighting back. Its federal lawsuit challenges the Tennessee podiatry board’s race-based membership quota as violating the Constitution’s equal protection guarantee. Its victory would ensure that all candidates can compete equally for any city advisory board, regardless of race.
Tennessee’s podiatry board isn’t a one-off either. The state has a long history of directing its governor and appointing authorities to make race-based appointments when filling vacancies on public boards and commissions.
Nor is Tennessee the only state that uses immutable characteristics to limit opportunities for individuals to serve their state and local communities.
A new report released by PLF found instances in 25 states where such unconstitutional discrimination has been codified. Without action, the problem is likely to worsen. Therefore, PLF is working to defeat race and sex board quotas in Tennessee and everywhere else the unconstitutional practice is allowed.