MSNBC Panel Denounces Trump’s ‘Assault on Civil Rights’

After all three broadcast networks fretted Wednesday morning over the Justice Department taking steps to challenge Affirmative Action policies that may discriminate against white students, on her 12 p.m. ET hour MSNBC show, anchor Andrea Mitchell worried the move had the “potential to reopen long decided cases of Affirmative Action, which is alarming civil rights groups and academic institutions across the country.”

Moments later, liberal Washington Post opinion writer Jonathan Capehart ranted: “...when you have an atmosphere where the Justice Department is saying to the country there’s a problem of white students being harmed by Affirmative Action, I think it sends a signal that I think there should be very vigorous push-back on.”

 

 

Turning to NAACP Associate Counsel Director Janai Nelson, Mitchell dismissed the notion that white students could be victims of discrimination in the college admissions process:

...obviously the counterpoint is that white students claim, perhaps – I don’t know if there are cases even, this seems to be the Justice Department looking for a problem in order to put resources there – so the claim would be that white students are being disadvantaged by other students, minority students, getting entrance to, you know, the available slots.

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“What about the fact that this takes money away from the pursuit of more pressing civil rights cases that are out there?,” she feared.

Nelson launched into a tirade:

...in terms of diverting resources away from key civil rights issues, we should all be greatly alarmed by what the Department of Justice is doing right now. This is what a 21st Century assault on civil rights looks like. An assault on voter rights, an assault on police-community relations, and now this latest attack on Affirmative Action. It is really stoking an us-vs.-them narrative that is doing nothing but harm to our country.

Capehart went further: “...when you have someone like Steve Bannon as a senior counselor to the President of the United States, with his connections to the so-called alt-right, but white supremacists....this is in line with that type of thinking.”

The biased discussion was brought to viewers by Gillette, CarFax, and Angie's List.

Here is a full transcript of the August 2 segment:

12:31 PM ET

ANDREA MITCHELL: The Trump administration is apparently planning to divert resources from the Justice Department away from pursuing civil rights investigations to instead study alleged bias against whites instead of minorities in college admissions. A potential to reopen long decided cases of Affirmative Action, which is alarming civil rights groups and academic institutions across the country. A Department of Justice spokesperson tells NBC News that DOJ, quote, “does not confirm or deny the existence of any ongoing investigation” into Affirmative Action.  

Joining me now is Janai Nelson, the Associate Director Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and with me here, Jonathan Capehart, opinion writer for The Washington Post and also an MSNBC contributor. Janai, we’ve seen cases in Texas and Michigan over the years, I remember covering the Bakke case back in the 70s at the Supreme Court. This has gone through various iterations at various universities with compromises along the way. Where do we stand as far as the law is concerned?

JANAI NELSON: Well, just last year, in June of 2016, the Supreme Court, for the third time in 40 years, validated the use of race in college admissions. It basically validated the use of Affirmative Action programs to promote and expand democracy in our institutions of higher learning. It was a 4-3 decision, it was written by Justice Kennedy, a justice who had been on the fence on this issue in the past, but who spoke out quite strongly and clearly in 2016, saying that this is precisely what our nation requires for equality and dignity of all residents. And that colleges and universities can craft narrowly tailored plans that support the goal of diversity and that are perfectly constitutional and do not constitute intentional discrimination.

MITCHELL: I mean, Jonathan, the point here, from the university perspective, many universities, is that diversity is a goal, a positive goal of an overall education. And that schools that do not have diverse student populations can do things in a narrow way to try to achieve that as long as people meet all the other standards.

JONATHAN CAPEHART: Right, of course. I mean, an educational institution, if it’s doing it’s job right, is preparing young people to go out into the world as it is, not as it’s envisioned on a campus that might be monochromatic. And so, if a college or university isn’t doing its best to make sure that all the students there reflect the country as much as they can, then they’re not doing their job. And you know, colleges and universities have a time of it trying to not only find qualified students to come to their campuses, but then they have to convince those students to come to those campuses.

And, you know, as a person of color who went to Carlton College in Minnesota, in the middle of the corn fields of Minnesota, I loved Carlton, I loved North Field, but there were lots of African-American students who got there and as welcoming and as open as Carlton was, they weren’t comfortable. That’s not something that is the fault of the college, but when you have an atmosphere where the Justice Department is saying to the country there’s a problem of white students being harmed by Affirmative Action, I think it sends a signal that I think there should be very vigorous push-back on.

MITCHELL: Now, Janai, let’s talk about this, because the, obviously the counterpoint is that white students claim, perhaps – I don’t know if there are cases even, this seems to be the Justice Department looking for a problem in order to put resources there – so the claim would be that white students are being disadvantaged by other students, minority students, getting entrance to, you know, the available slots. What about the fact that this takes money away from the pursuit of more pressing civil rights cases that are out there?

NELSON: Yeah, that’s a great question. I mean, first, just the premise that this is harming white students is wrong on at least two key fronts. There are more white students in college now than ever before, so to suggest that white students are somehow not getting the advantage of higher education is absolutely false. And the second thing to consider is that all students, including white students, benefit from being in a diverse learning environment. They are better prepared for the workplace, they are better prepared to think on diverse teams. Companies that have diverse teams earn 35% more successful in terms of revenue generation than those that do not have diverse teams. So racial diversity is critical to the success of our country.

And in terms of diverting resources away from key civil rights issues, we should all be greatly alarmed by what the Department of Justice is doing right now. This is what a 21st Century assault on civil rights looks like. An assault on voter rights, an assault on police-community relations, and now this latest attack on Affirmative Action. It is really stoking an us-vs.-them narrative that is doing nothing but harm to our country.

MITCHELL: And in fact, the Department of Justice last week, unsolicited, joined another case, filed a lawsuit in another case, unbidden, claiming that there was no discrimination involved.

CAPEHART: Look, I think what’s happening here is – and I’ve written this many times – that when you have someone like Steve Bannon as a senior counselor to the President of the United States, with his connections to the so-called alt-right, but white supremacists, what’s not surprising about this, about the story in The New York Times today, is that this is in line with that type of thinking. What you just talked about, unbidden, is in line with that type of thinking.

What we’re seeing here is the ultimate manifestation of elections have consequences. President Trump is President of the United States. He came into office with ideas – surrounded by people with clear ideas about what they want to do, about the kinds of ideas and philosophies they want to push, and they are pushing them. We’re seeing it with Affirmative Action today, we saw it with transgender last week, who knows what it will be next week.

MITCHELL: Jonathan Capehart, Janai Nelson, thank you both so very much. Appreciate it.  

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