Exiting Arkansas governor sued over enforcing race-based quota in state appointments

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An Arkansas man has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the state because state law prevents him from serving on a state board because of the color of his skin.

The legal complaint (pdf) in the case, Haile v. Hutchinson, which was filed on Jan. 4 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, claims that a state law establishing race-based quotas on the Arkansas Social Work Licensing Board violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican who leaves office on Jan. 10, is being sued in his official capacity as governor. He’s being succeeded by Gov.-elect Sarah Huckabee Sanders, also a Republican.

The plaintiff, Stephen Haile, along with his wife, have fostered more than 300 children in Conway, Arkansas. In the process, he says he has gained insights into the importance of transparency between social workers and foster parents in providing the best possible environment for the children in their care.

Haile’s experiences made him interested in being appointed to the Arkansas Social Work Licensing Board, which regulates the practice of social work in the state. The nine-member board is appointed by the governor with the consent of the state Senate.

State law requires the board to be comprised of three licensed certified social workers, two licensed master social workers, one licensed social worker, one psychiatrist, one member of the public at large, and one “representative of the elderly.”

The representative of the elderly must be at least 60 years old and can’t be engaged in or retired from professional social work. Haile meets those criteria and previously served on a foster parent board.

In June 2022, that board seat became available and Haile applied for it. But because 17-103-201(c) of the Arkansas Code mandates that there be “no fewer than two African-American members” on the board and, at present, there aren’t two black members, Haile, who’s white, was excluded from consideration for the appointment, the legal complaint states.

This racial quota “perpetuates patronizing stereotypes, establishes a permanent government mandate for the Governor and state senate to engage in outright racial discrimination, and limits opportunities for many Arkansas citizens to get involved in the important work of protecting children and other vulnerable populations,” the document states.

Haile’s “ability to serve on the Board should be based on his qualifications, not his race.”

“Basically, the governor hasn’t to our knowledge appointed anyone yet to fill the open position, but he is expected to reappoint the African-American members of the board,” Laura D’Agostino, an attorney at the Pacific Legal Foundation, a national public interest law firm that’s representing Haile, told The Epoch Times in an interview.

“We believe that the governor’s decision is motivated in part to comply with the race quota. And it seems that if you look at his appointments since he took office in 2015, he has consistently enforced the race quota that’s required by the law.

“We’re bringing an equal-protection challenge [because] we believe that this is wrong [and] that anyone should be able to represent their community.

“And the interesting thing about Arkansas is that they also have other laws that require the governor to take diversity into account and to consult with different minority groups in the state and to garner feedback from them on which appointees they would recommend.”

The state law in this case is “unnecessary and unconstitutional,” the lawyer noted.

Hutchinson didn’t respond by press time to a request by The Epoch Times for comment.

This article by Matthew Vadum appeared Jan. 8, 2023, in The Epoch Times.