CONTRARY TO MUCH that has been written and said in recent weeks, the Department of Justice is committed without reservation to enforcing the nation's civil rights laws. Indeed, we are enforcing those laws. Many who charge otherwise know in their hearts that this is true; their real objection can only be to our positions on busing and quotas.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964, together with other civil rights legislation passed both before and after that act, gives the department the chief responsibility for ensuring that racial bigotry does not poison the lives of individual Americans and their communities. Specificaly in matters of public education, public employment, housing, credit, voting and that most basic right to be left in peace, able to live without the threat of racial violence, my department must ensure that justice is done when the law is violated.
Controversies about the administration's performance of its duties in this area almost since the day we took office have raised some questions which are worthy of continuing debate. But some of our critics have misrepresented our enforcement record, thus creating unnecessary anxiety about our fundamental commitments.
It is time for the critics to look at what we are doing, for I believe that no one in good conscience can deny that we are proceeding energetically to enforce the law.
Last month, for example, we objected to several redistricting plans submitted by counties in Mississippi and also sent federal examiners to counties in that state for the purpose of conducting voter registration. In May we filed suit against two California firms, challenging the use of an apparent quota system to limit opportunities for blacks to rent apartments. In April we filed suit against a Georgia state hospital, charging that its credit union required black loan applicants to obtain co-signers while failing to require the same of white loan applicants. Also that month, we obtained the conviction of white youths who had beaten to death a young black musician while he was playing jazz one night in a municipal park in Kansas City.
These are but a few, very recent examples of our work. There are more, many more, and they add up, over the past 30 months, to an impressive enforcement record. The highlights of this record include the following:
In fiscal year 1982 the department filed more criminal civil rights cases than had been filed in any previous year. Also, more grand jury investigations were conducted in that year than in any other.
The department has reviewed the electoral changes made since the 1980 census was conducted, as required by law, and objected to 135, including statewide redistricting plans in nine states, from Virginia to Texas, and the redistricting plan for New York City.
The department has been actively involved in more than 100 employment discrimination lawsuits. Fourteen new cases have been filed, and 21 of our cases have been resolved by consent decrees. The department is currently investigating 23 other cases of employment discrimination involving 36 state or local governments and governmental agencies.
The department has authorized the filing of three school desegregation suits, as compared to two in the same period during the previous admininstration.
The department has conducted more than 60 investigations of discrimination in housing and tried, settled or prepared for trial more than 20 housing cases.
The department also has broken new ground in its efforts to root out discrimination. The department's successful suit against the Chicago Park District marks the first time ever that the federal government has challenged racial discrimination in the allocation of resources within a public park system. And our suit against Cicero, Ill., still in litigation, marks the first time ever that the federal government has charged both employment and housing discrimination in the same lawsuit.
Suffice it to say, the department is on the job, doing the job. The department is on the beat; the law is being enforced. We care about the victims of racial discrimination. We are vigorously pursuing the work of enforcing the national commitment to the elimination of discrimination and racial hatred.
So why has the impression been spread that we are dismantling the civil rights laws and abandoning the national commitment to a just society free of racial discrimination? I can think of only one reason: Our open and principled opposition to busing as a remedy for school segregation and our opposition to quotas -- under whatever euphemism -- as a measure or a remedy for employment discrimination.
While a candidate, President Reagan clearly and repeatedly stated his position on these two issues, and the department has endeavored to implement the president's stated philosophy in a way that is principled, effective and consistent with existing law.
I am gratified that the administration's views on busing and quotas -- long reflective, I believe, of the views of the majority of Americans -- are now being characterized more fairly, and even being accepted, by some who have disagreed with them. I shall not rehearse in detail here the arguments against busing and the use of quotas. It is enough to say that, surely, men and women of good will may reasonably believe that busing has not significantly improved educational opportunities for our children -- black or white -- while it has actually decreased the level of integration as well as the quality of education in many school systems. And surely one may reasonably believe that quotas have not helped many blacks with disadvantaged backgrounds -- who most need help -- and have stigmatized many blacks who have been hired under quota plans.
These views find strong support in the black community. While 58 percent of black Americans favor busing, according to the most recent Gallup poll, 42 percent oppose it. Many black parents share our view that an effective remedy is one which results in a better education for their children.
With respect to quotas, a growing number of economists and intellectuals have concluded that this device has not helped blacks -- and, indeed, has hurt them. For example, economist Thomas Sowell has written that where affirmative action policies have been discriminatory or preferential, they "have produced little overall pay or employment change for blacks relative to whites," and that color-blind policies -- like the ones this administration favors -- "seem more effective." Sowell can hardly be accused of bad faith.
Again, this administration and those blacks who oppose quotas care as deeply about eliminating racial discrimination as our critics do. It is not a sign of bad faith to believe that quotas have been a practical and moral failure.
Nothing illustrates so well the willingness of those who disagree with us on busing and quotas to distort our position and paint us as laggard or worse in our commitment to civil rights than the things said about the president's recent appointments to the Civil Rights Commission. The persons he has appointed are by any objective standard as distinguished and as independent as those they replace.
Morris Abram, for example, has devoted a large part of his life to fighting for the rights of black Americans. But he opposes using quotas as a means of affirmative action to enhance opportunities for members of groups victimized in the past. And Robert Destro is distinguised in part because of his vigorous and courageous espousal of the proposition that ethnic disparagement is a despicable basis for denying opportunities to any person, not just blacks. Yet the failure of these able and committed persons to pass muster on what to some has become a loyalty test of commitment to racial justice has unleashed a storm of invective and misrepresentation.
Our opposition to busing and quotas does not arise from has char an uncertain commitment to the rights of those who have suffered from discrimination. It arises instead from a love of justice, from the principled belief that we should not make new victims and open new racial divisions in the forlorn expectation that today's injustices, although committed with good intentions, somehow will not harm the soul of our nation. As the Washington Post noted in a recent editorial on quotas, " 'remedies' which create a class of identifiable new victims are as wrong as no 'remedies' at all."
A popular tag has it that "we must use race to get beyond racism." Yet the evil of racism is precisely its disregard of the right of each individual to be judged on his or her individual merits. The remedies we reject share racism's willingness to disregard individual merit, individual guilt, and individual hurt. Is it any wonder that busing and quotas have failed to get us beyond racism? In our view, busing and quotas simply replicate the evil sought to be remedied. In order to get beyond racism, the nation must once and for all stop measuring the worth of individuals by reference to their race.
The goal of this administration is a nation where men and women can be what they dare to be, and what they have been willing to work hard to become. It is a nation where individuals are secure -- secure from criminal violence and illegal threats, harassment, and disparagement on the basis of race. It is the job of the Department of Justice to help provide that security. No one can know how many black doctors or Hispanic engineers there will be when this goal is obtained. There is no right number, no due proportion. What is right and due is that the choice be there. That goal is the soul of our work in this department. We dare not lose that soul, even to gain a whole world of false equality.