Like the governments of many American cities, the District of Columbia apparently has embraced the notion that the government should provide benefits to people based on their skin color. Under the banner of providing “equitable outcomes,” the District has abandoned the principle of equality under the law in favor of a race-based approach. The latest example of this change is the District’s draft Racial Equity Action Plan, the final version of which is expected to be released this spring.
The inevitable outcome of this focus on “equity” is the provision of government benefits based on race. Such as in San Francisco, where a city-appointed reparations committee has recommended providing $5 million in payments to members of a specific racial group, an advisory committee of the District has recommended providing government benefits based not on need but on the color of recipients’ skin.
The District’s Black Homeownership Strike Force was established by Mayor Muriel Bowser in June 2022. Citing concerns about declining Black homeownership, Bowser asked the Strike Force to develop a plan to produce 20,000 new Black homeowners by 2030. To that end, the group released a report with a series of recommendations for achieving that goal in October.
Some of the recommendations, such as legislation to protect homeowners from solicitation and identifying ways to accelerate zoning for homeownership projects, are race-neutral. Many others, however, are not.
The Strike Force suggests creating a program to aid Black homeowners who are unable to pay their mortgages; financial support for Black homeowners who wish to rehabilitate their homes; providing homeownership units to Black homebuyers; and utilizing a $10 million Black Homeownership Fund to sell homes to Black owner-occupant homebuyers.
After a review by the mayor’s office to determine the cost and legality of these recommendations, the mayor’s proposed budget includes $10 million for the Black Homeownership Fund and $8 million to support the Strike Force’s recommendations. From here, the budget will be voted on by the D.C. Council and, if passed, will be submitted to Congress.
The council should reject the Strike Force’s proposals. Race-based policies undermine our nation’s long struggle to eliminate racial discrimination from public life and to ensure that the United States remains a nation “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
In the name of “equity” and racial balancing, the Strike Force would undermine equal protection of the laws. Instead, it would replace the principle of legal equality with discrimination and the preeminence of racial identity. As Frederick Douglass once opined, “In all this talk of race, the motive may be good, but the method is bad.” The District’s emphasis on equity elevates the least important aspect of a person — the color of his or her skin — over his or her choices and actions. If the District’s government must provide housing benefits, it should do so based on need, not irrelevant characteristics such as race.
The Strike Force’s proposals also run afoul of the Constitution. The U.S. Supreme Court has long held that the District’s government cannot engage in racial discrimination.
While some race-conscious measures may be appropriate to remedy past discrimination, the government must provide actual evidence of that discrimination and take care to ensure that those measures are narrowly tailored to remedy the problem. Blanket preferential treatment to a specific racial group is highly suspect. If the District continues down this path, it may find itself the defendant in a constitutional lawsuit.
Fortunately, District residents can fight back. Public interest legal organizations — such as my firm,_ Pacific legal Foundation _— stand ready to help people who are willing to stand for fundamental civil rights principles to fight for equality under the law.
Frederick Douglass once observed that all Americans, regardless of race, are “entitled to justice, liberty and equality before the law.” The District’s progressive leaders, it seems, have forgotten this lesson.
This op-ed was originally published at The Hill on March 27, 2023.