Why Does Rex Tillerson Want Affirmative Action for Ambassadors?

Tillerson says the State Department needs to be more diverse and that there needs to be a Rooney Rule for ambassadorships.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was so disturbed by the clash of protesters in Charlottesville that he made a policy decision he may have to reverse: In a speech at the State Department on August 19, he repudiated hatred and racism before addressing what he called “a great diversity gap” in employment and ambassadorships. He meant that there are too few employees and ambassadors who are “diverse” on account of their race, or ethnicity, or sex, or sexual orientation. He did not say how many of this or that diversity group the department needed among its employees or ambassadors to be sufficiently diverse. Tillerson’s point was simply that there must be more.

How to get more? Tillerson said there would be changes in the process used to recruit and hire employees and choose ambassadorships. The most important of those changes concerns ambassador selection.

“Every time we have an opening for an ambassador position, at least one of the candidates must be a minority candidate,” he said. Tillerson seemed to mean candidates who are black and Hispanic, but not Asian or other racial and ethnic minorities. The new policy could result in discrimination against a non-preferred minority candidate. Necessarily it will result in discrimination against someone lacking the “right” race or ethnicity but who is better qualified than the diversity candidate included in the competition for a particular ambassadorship.

Federal civil rights law and the Constitution would not seem to permit racial preferences in the selection of ambassadors and department employees. Someone needs to tell that to Tillerson. Perhaps Attorney General Sessions could do so.

Attorneys general, relying on the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, have long advised presidents and their administrations on legal questions raised by new policies. Here’s one that needs the AG’s immediate attention, before Tillerson’s bean-counting gets out of hand.


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