Sonia Sotomayor.
Sonia Sotomayor. (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/NLJ.)

Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. on Wednesday described as “courageous and personal” the dissent from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor in the Michigan affirmative action case.

In a speech on diversity in Washington, Holder cited Sotomayor’s language in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action to argue that the United States still has a ways to go before realizing the promise of equal justice. A 6-2 high court majority, splintered in their reasoning, held that Michigan’s Proposal 2, an initiative adopted in 2006, did not violate the U.S. Constitution.

“Now, I know it may be tempting, for some—when they look at the accomplished professionals in this room, or the lawyer who works in the Oval Office, or consider the fact that I have the privilege of serving as attorney general of the United States—to feel that this country’s long struggle to overcome disparity and discrimination has ended,” Holder said at the U.S. Department of Justice Diversity and Inclusion Speaker Series.

“But as Justice Sonia Sotomayor said just yesterday in her courageous and personal dissent in the Michigan college admissions case, we ought not, ‘wish away, rather than confront, the racial inequality that exists in our society. … The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race,’ ” Holder said.

Holder went a step further, saying that “progress will require not just open and honest dialogue, but a willingness to confront these difficult issues through principled action—to address and remediate the lingering impacts of racial discrimination.”

Sotomayor, who read a summary of her dissent from the bench Tuesday, said the Supreme Court had abdicated its “special role” in safeguarding the interests of those in need of extraordinary protection from the majoritarian political process.

Contact Todd Ruger at truger@alm.com. On Twitter: @ToddRuger.