Evan Naismith: Reparations model must be sustainable

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Democrats have a communication problem. Believe all women? Defund the police? These well-intentioned slogans and movements have been electorally devastating for us.

Via “reparations,” Amherst is close to stepping into a political (and legal) bear trap. We can change that. Let’s add some clever to our smart. First, let’s call it the “Economic Justice Stimulus Fund.” This initiative does not repair past racial injustices, so why should we call it reparations? Let’s take a page out of the Biden playbook and frame it through the lens of smart economic policy.

Second, we should open up the application process to individuals of all races. If a Chinese-American or a Puerto Rican can prove they were economically harmed by discriminatory practices in Amherst, shouldn’t they be allowed to apply for compensation? This second point is critical, both politically and legally. If we limit recompense (and its governance) to one race, we limit both the scope of “reparations” and Democrats’ chances at the ballot box. We do not want an “unelected reparations panel” on the minds of Michigan voters in 2022 or 2024.

Reparations is the crown jewel of conservative culture wars: if it is not framed thoughtfully, it will trigger a red wave at every level of government. As currently formulated, Reparations for Amherst is likely unconstitutional. In Richmond v. Croson (1989), the Supreme Court struck down racially-based preferences in city contracting, citing “inherently unmeasurable claims of past wrongs.” In Grutter v. Bollinger (2003), affirmative action was narrowly upheld.

Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader-Ginsburg agreed with the majority to allow affirmative action, but only under the condition that race was only used as a secondary consideration for college admission. Both of the aforementioned courts were more liberal than the current iteration.

You can bet your bottom dollar that conservative groups are prowling Evanston, Illinois looking for a plaintiff to overturn their new reparations initiative. If we want to compensate the victims of racism, we owe them a sustainable model. Call and email the Amherst City Council to ensure that their well-intentioned initiative will succeed in the long term.

Evan Naismith