William Bradford Reynolds, head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, yesterday called racial quotas "morally wrong" and said the Reagan administration will neither seek nor accept them to remedy racial discrimination.
In his first comprehensive speech on administration policy on racial quotas in jobs and education, Reynolds charged that their use had created a "racial spoils system" in the United States.
Speaking to students at Amherst College in Massachusetts, he said that the administration would continue to fight illegal discrimination based on race and would make sure that individual victims are "made whole."
"Every worker who was not hired or promoted because of race will be restored to his or her rightful place," Reynolds promised in a text of the speech released in Washington.
But he said that the government would not "fight discrimination with discrimination."
"Racial quotas in the work force or the schoolroom will not be sought, nor will they be accepted," he said.
"The use of race in the distribution of limited economic and educational resources in the past decade has regrettably led to the creation of a kind of racial spoils system in America, fostering competition not only among individual members of contending groups, but among the groups themselves. Racial classifications are wrong--morally wrong--and ought not be tolerated in any form.
"It must be remembered that we are all--each of us--a minority in this country: a minority of one. Our rights derive from the uniquely American belief in the primacy of the individual. And in no instance should an individual's rights rise any higher or fall any lower than the rights of others because of race."
Reynolds' address came as the federal courts are considering two major cases dealing with the use of quotas to remedy discrimination.
In January, the administration intervened on behalf of white, female and Hispanic policemen in New Orleans who are fighting a court settlement that required the promotion of one black for every white until the department's supervisory ranks are 50 percent black.
The Civil Rights Division has told the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that such a practice violates civil rights law and the Constitution.
"Persons who have not been victimized by the employer's discriminatory practices" have no claim to special treatment under quotas, the government brief said. The practice is an "inequitable infringement of the rights of innocent non-black officers," it added.
In a Supreme Court case involving the Boston Fire Department, the Justice Department took a similar stand against a court order that blacks should not be subject to layoffs in higher proportions than whites. In that case, the blacks were hired recently under a court order, and under seniority rules they would have been the first fired.
In his Amherst address yesterday, Reynolds said that employers should expand their recruitment of minorities, but should hire only on individual merits. Giving preference to one race, Reynolds said, makes society "more racially polarized . . . . Rather than moving in the direction of colorblindness, such a selection process accentuates color-consciousness."
Reynolds also criticized court orders assigning children to schools on the basis of race.
"After more than a decade of court-ordered busing, the evidence is overwhelming that the effort to desegregate through wholesale reliance on race-conscious student assignment plans has failed," he said.
The Justice Department has not filed a school desegregation case since President Reagan took office, and Reynolds has announced he will oppose mandatory busing to remedy school segregation. He has said he may ask courts to reopen cases in which busing has led to white flight.