WASHINGTON — Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall said Friday that the nation has a long way to go to become a colorblind society and some preferential treatment for blacks is essential.
"We must face the simple fact that there are groups in every community which are daily paying the cost of the history of American injustice," Marshall said. "The argument against affirmative action is an argument in favor of leaving that cost to lie where it falls."
Marshall, the only black on the high court, spoke to a federal judicial conference in New York. Copies of his remarks were made available here.
"I too believe in the colorblind society," Marshall said. "But it has been and remains an aspiration. Given the position from which America began, we still have a very long way to go."
Three Important Rulings
In its 1985-86 term that ended in July, the Supreme Court handed down three important rulings affecting the future of affirmative action in the American workplace.
The court rejected the Reagan Administration's assertion that preferential treatment should be limited only to identifiable victims of past discrimination.
It also upheld affirmative-action plans that use goals and quotas to alleviate past discrimination against minority groups.
But the rulings left many questions unanswered and the high court is scheduled to explore the issue again in two cases this fall.
Marshall said affirmative action must be "judiciously employed."
But without it, he said, it will be impossible to eliminate "the lingering effects of inequality. The burden will be borne by those who are least able to pay."
Marshall acknowledged arguments that race-conscious plans cause "immediate harm on some in the hope of ameliorating a more remote harm done to others."
But, he maintained, affirmative action "is instead an instrument for sharing the burdens which our history imposes upon us all."