Juan Williams: There Are 'Elements of Racism' in Today's Constitution

February 23rd, 2015 4:10 PM

In a discussion with plenty of other objectionable elements on Sean Hannity's Fox News show Friday, Juan Williams asserted that "There's no question that if you look at our Constitution, there are elements of racism right in it." Note his use of the present tense.

The version of this country's founding document Williams was referencing must be 147 or more years old, because the only element of the original Constitution which was arguably racist — the inclusion of non-free persons as three-fifths of a person for the purpose of allocating House seats in Article I — went away when the 14th Amendment was ratified in 1868. Even that argument ignores the existence of white slaves at the time of its adoption.

Williams seemed to have acquired a whiff of sanity in a Wall Street Journal column which appeared Friday evening about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, calling him "America's Most Influential Thinker on Race."

Sadly, he reverted to predictable hackery in a four-way discussion with Hannity, author and filmmaker Dinesh D'Souza, and National Review's Kevin Williamson.

Williams's contention came after Williamson asserted (starting at the 3:33 mark of the 8-minute video below) that if you believe that the U.S. is an inherently unjust society (and, I should add, recognize this country's overwhelmingly positive role in world history), you don't really love it:

WILLIAMSON: There's a difference between criticizing the country, and between what the country actually is. And if you think that the country represents a society that's basically animated by greed, rapacity, and white supremacy, then there's really not much to like about it.

WILLIAMS: There's no question that if you look at our Constitution, there are elements of racism right in it.

Hannity was so focused on making his quite valid but unfortunately repeated ad nauseam points about Obama's associations with the Rev. Jeremiah "God Damn America" Wright (note that the related video conveniently no longer works at the ABC link) and Weather Underground founder Bill Ayers that he let Williams's present-tense assertion about the Constitution slide by.

Williams's contention is all the more ironic in light of this key passage in his column on Justice Thomas:

Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American on the Supreme Court, stood up as a voice insisting on rights for black people. Justice Thomas, the second black man on the court, takes a different tack. He stands up for individual rights as a sure blanket of legal protection for everyone, including minorities.

In his dissent in Grutter v. Bollinger, a case that preserved the affirmative-action policies of the University of Michigan Law School, he quoted an 1865 speech by Frederick Douglass : “‘What I ask for the Negro is not benevolence, not pity, not sympathy, but simply justice.’ . . . Like Douglass, I believe blacks can achieve in every avenue of American life without the meddling of university administrators.”

The principal point Justice Thomas has made in a variety of cases is that black people deserve to be treated as independent, competent, self-sufficient citizens. He rejects the idea that 21st-century government and the courts should continue to view blacks as victims of a history of slavery and racism.

Instead, in an era with a rising number of blacks, Hispanics, Asians and immigrants, he cheers personal responsibility as the basis of equal rights. In his concurring opinion in Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Pena (1995), he made the case against government set-asides for minority businesses by arguing that “racial paternalism and its unintended consequences can be as poisonous and pernicious as any other form of discrimination.” The Constitution, he said, bans discrimination by “those who wish to oppress a race or by those who have a sincere desire to help.”

In the same vein he contends that people who insist on racial diversity as a worthy principle are hiding assumptions of black inferiority.

Nothing actually in the Constitution is moving the U.S. towards more racism. What is moving the nation in that direction is the insistence by too many jurists — with Thomas, as Williams observed, as a notable exception — on looking at so-called group rights instead of individual rights. The question that such judges almost invariably fail to ask is, "Why am I supposed to assume that the litigants in this case truly represent the broad class of people they claim to represent?" The answer is that they usually cannot possibly do so, because rights are an overwhelmingly individual matter.

Williams understands this. It would be nice if he also understood and admitted that the last remnant of residual racism left the Constitution itself 147 years ago.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.