Judge Merrick Garland, President Joe Biden's nominee for Attorney General, said during his Senate appointment hearing on Monday that he sees "no distinction" between the concepts of equality and equity.
During the hearing, Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) asked Judge Garland about a recent executive order issued by President Joe Biden guaranteeing the administration's commitment to "racial equity."
"You're aware that President Biden has signed an executive order stating that his administration will firm and fully advance 'racial equity?' Not racial equality, but racial equity."
Garland references the definition of equity within the executive order, which defines it as "the consistent and systematic fair, just, and impartial treatment of all individuals, including individuals who belong to underserved communities."
"I don't see any distinction... in that regard, that's the definition that was included in that executive order that you're talking about," Garland replied.
When further asked by Senator Cotton whether he believes that equality and equity are the same thing, Garland once again referenced the executive order.
Equality and equity, however, have two very different definitions, with the cause of equity drawing concern from conservatives and civil libertarians.
Equality, as understood in the United States, refers to equal opportunity and equal treatment before the law. Such a standard prohibits discrimination by the government and the legal system to ensure that all Americans have an opportunity to fully participate in American life without being subject to legal hurdles.
Equity, on the other hand, refers to equality of outcome, and promotes the use of discrimination in order to achieve it. According to Brandeis University's Department of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, "equity implies that an individual may need to experience or receive something different (not equal) in order to maintain fairness and access."
As now-Vice President Kamala Harris said in a speech during the 2020 presidential election, "there is a big difference between equality and equity." According to Harris, "equitable treatment means we all end up at the same place."
Proponents of equity argue that it is necessary to correct historic injustices such as slavery and Jim Crow. In effect, reverse discrimination is needed in order to place historically disadvantaged groups of people on an equal footing with those who have been historically privileged.
Opponents of equity, on the other hand, argue that government discrimination is inherently immoral no matter the motive or the effects of historical injustices. They also criticize the concept of equality of outcome, arguing that it is an undesirable goal as it does not account for differences in interests and desires among the population, thereby denying them the freedom to make their own choices which could change their social and economic standings.
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