WASHINGTON — Since taking office, President Joe Biden has promised to put racial equity at the center of everything he does, pledging in an executive order on Day 1 to take a “systematic approach to embedding fairness in decision-making” as he drafts legislation, hires staff, proposes spending and develops regulations.
But his efforts — which could radically realign the distribution of federal money and benefits in favor of people of color and other underserved communities — are running into legal and political obstacles.
No part of Biden’s agenda has been as ambitious as his attempt to embrace racial considerations when making decisions. It pushes against limits set by the Supreme Court, which say programs based on race must be “narrowly tailored” to accomplish a “compelling governmental interest.” And it ignites passions at a time when Democrats hold the narrowest majority in Congress and the country is already seething with disagreements about race, power and fairness.
On Wednesday, a federal judge in Florida echoed a court ruling in Wisconsin by ordering a halt to an Agriculture Department program to forgive the debts of Black and other minority farmers after years of discrimination. The judge wrote that Congress must “heed its obligation to do away with governmentally imposed discrimination based on race.”
The small-business program that prioritized people was forced to change its rules last month after challenges by white Americans who say the policy is racist. And around the country, Republicans are promising to tie the president’s equity efforts to a broader culture war during the 2022 midterm elections, arguing that Biden is doing the bidding of liberal activists who believe that all white people are racist.
On Capitol Hill, the $1.9 trillion relief package Biden pushed through in March, known as the American Rescue Plan, included money for health care, child care and poverty programs that disproportionately benefit minority groups, underserved communities and women.
Biden’s initial proposal for vast spending on infrastructure would have gone even further, reversing racial disparities in how the government builds, repairs and locates a wide range of physical projects, including a $20 billion plan to “reconnect” communities of color to economic opportunity. But an emerging bipartisan deal on infrastructure does not include $400 billion for home health aides, a program that benefits many women of color. And it is uncertain whether it will embrace some of Biden’s other race-conscious proposals.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.