San Francisco’s reparations committee has proposed that San Francisco pay $5 million each to virtually all black San Francisco residents over the age of 18, and also pay reparations to black people all over the country with drug convictions. This would cost the city trillions of dollars, bankrupting it. Yet the plan was praised by the President of the City’s Board of Supervisors.
Such reparations would be an unconstitutional racial preference, since they wouldn’t be available to non-black people (not even Asians or Hispanics who have suffered racial discrimination), and they aren’t a remedy for recent, widespread discrimination by the government of San Francisco (as any racial preference by the city would have to be, in order to be constitutional). Moreover, the reparations plan has an unconstitutional purpose, because it’s not actually intended as a remedy for discrimination by the city. Most people who would get reparations have no connection to San Francisco, and would qualify for reparations based on drug convictions, an area where the city is not even alleged to have singled out black people.
As the Washington Times reports, “The city’s reparations committee has recommended giving each Black person who meets the criteria a lump-sum payment of $5 million, along with a bonanza of financial benefits that includes a guaranteed income of $97,000 for at least 250 years and paying off all educational and personal debts.”
Black people outside San Francisco could qualify if they have a drug conviction (or are descended from a drug convict) and have enslaved ancestors. “In other words, an Atlanta resident who was once busted for drugs and whose lineage includes an enslaved ancestor would apparently be eligible for the $5 million.”
As the Times notes, “San Francisco has a Black population of about 44,930, according to the 2020 U.S. Census. If all those residents were eligible, the lump-sum price tag alone would be about $225 billion” for just the $5 million per resident payment, not counting the much larger cost of reparations for black people with drug convictions. By contrast, “San Francisco’s 2022-23 budget was $14 billion.”
But as lawyer John Hinderaker notes, the $5 million would be just the beginning — blacks would also get “total forgiveness of debt, exemptions from business taxes, refinanced mortgages, subsidized housing, and a dizzying array of government programs.”
But the costs of reparations for city residents would be small compared to the cost of reparations for non-residents with drug convictions, which would be “incalculable,” he notes.
you don’t ever need to have lived in San Francisco to be eligible for the full suite of benefits. If at least one of your ancestors was a slave, and you were incarcerated in the “failed war on drugs,” or an ancestor of yours was so incarcerated, you can come to San Francisco and claim your $5 million, housing subsidies, etc. Pretty much every [black] incarcerated drug criminal in the U.S., or formerly incarcerated drug criminal, along with all of his progeny, would be a multimillionaire.
For San Francisco to give reparations to drug offenders would be strange and unjustified, because it barely prosecutes drug offenders in recent years, and certainly hasn’t engaged in recent, widespread discrimination against black people in that context. There were only three drug dealing convictions by the San Francisco district attorney’s office in 2021, and none of the offenders were singled out because of their race. The reparations committee doesn’t claim the City is only prosecuting black rather than white drug offenders, or that it is prosecuting more black than white offenders, and even if it did, the Supreme Court’s Armstrong decision says a higher black arrest rate doesn’t show discrimination.
For a racial preference to be legal, it has to be remedying government discrimination, not “societal discrimination,” or discrimination that is “ageless” or in the distant past, according to the Supreme Court’s Croson decision.
In its report, the San Francisco African-American Reparations Advisory Committee cites a long history of serious discrimination against blacks by government officials in San Francisco and California from the mid-19th Century to the mid-20th Century, in many different areas of life. But that discrimination is just too old to justify a racial preference. On the other hand, the Committee doesn’t point to any drug conviction tainted by racism in recent years, or even any widespread discrimination by San Francisco’s government.
The Committee does complain about California’s Proposition 209, which abolished affirmative action. But the Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that affirmative-action bans aren’t discriminatory, so this isn’t evidence of discrimination.
The Committee cites the black-white “wealth gap” and other economic disparities between blacks and whites. But such “disparities” aren’t proof of “discrimination.” The Supreme Court in Richmond v. J.A. Croson Co. (1989), ruled that the fact that blacks had received only 1% of city contracts in a city that was 50% black did not, by itself, prove discrimination.
Racial wealth gaps often have nothing to do with discrimination. “Asian Americans have the highest average net worth and highest average income,” despite historical discrimination against Chinese and Japanese Americans (who were once barred from even testifying in court).
The Committee also cites different “health outcomes” by race. But health disparities are usually not the result of discrimination. For example, Latinos live three years longer than whites, on average, even though doctors don’t discriminate in their favor.
The fact that the Committee wants to give reparations to people who obviously never suffered discrimination by San Francisco — such as drug offenders from across the country — shows its real motive is not remedying discrimination, but rather just trying to economically advance black people.
Since the Committee has a motive other than remedying discrimination, that renders its plan unconstitutional. An affirmative-action plan is unconstitutional if its “actual purpose” was something other than remedying the government’s own discrimination, according to the Supreme Court’s decision in Shaw v. Hunt (1996).
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