Holder says Sotomayor's affirmative action dissent was 'courageous'

Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday called Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s dissent in the Supreme Court’s latest affirmative action ruling “courageous.”

At an event on diversity within the Justice Department, Holder said it’s tempting to think the struggle to overcome discrimination has ended when people like him or President Obama have reached the nation’s highest ranks. But, he said, the fight for equal rights is not over.

"[This] great country still has a ways to go before our founding promise of equal justice and equal opportunity is fully realized,” he said.

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Holder quoted Sotomayor in the dissent she filed a day earlier in 6-2 Supreme Court ruling that upheld Michigan’s ban on affirmative action in college admissions. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined in the dissent.

“Just yesterday in her courageous and personal dissent,” Holder quoted Sotomayor as saying that people should 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.”

White House press secretary Jay Carney declined to weigh in on the ruling Tuesday but noted President Obama has previously said using race as a factor could be appropriate under certain circumstances.

Holder said confronting existing disparities not only requires a dialogue, but principled action “to address and remediate the lingering impacts of racial discrimination.”

The high court’s decision on Tuesday essentially says states have the right to ban affirmative action. A majority of Michigan voters approved the state's ban in 2006. It was the second affirmative action case the justices ruled on in the last year.

In a 2012 interview at the World Leaders Forum, Holder appeared to express support for the race-conscious policy.

“Affirmative action has been an issue since segregation practices,” Holder said. “The question is not when does it end, but when does it begin. ... When do people of color truly get the benefits to which they are entitled?”