A federal judge has blocked the city of Cedar Rapids from continuing to use a racial quota in selecting members for a police review board. (Photo by Getty Images)
A federal judge has blocked the city of Cedar Rapids from continuing to use a racial quota in selecting members for the police department’s Citizen Review Board.
In a strongly worded ruling, U.S. District Judge C.J. Williams of the Northern District of Iowa declared that the city’s rationale for its policy was “vehemently incorrect,” adding that the quota wrongly “assumes that a person with white skin is different from a person of color and unable to identify and address racial bias in policing like a person of color.”
Kevin Wymore, a retired public health analyst, is suing the city, alleging that in February 2021, Cedar Rapids adopted an ordinance establishing an independent, nine-member Citizen Review Board, with each member appointed by the mayor to staggered three-year terms.
The board is tasked with reviewing quarterly reports from the chief of police that include racial and ethnic data related to traffic stops by police officers and citizen complaints about police officers.
The ordinance requires the board to “include a minimum of five voting members who identify as people of color.” In addition, three voting members are to be selected from applications submitted by individuals who work for nonprofits focused on advocacy of, and racial justice for, under-represented citizens of Cedar Rapids.
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Wymore, who is white, applied for a position on the board on at least two occasions. He holds a master’s degree in public policy and, in his lawsuit, says he is a volunteer teacher of English to adults who have recently come to the United States from West Africa.
He was passed over for membership on the board, allegedly because, as a white individual, he could not be considered for the five positions on the board reserved for persons of color.
Judge: Ordinance ‘engages in inherent bias’
Wymore’s lawsuit, filed in federal court, alleges the city’s ordinance violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection. The lawsuit seeks a judicial declaration that the ordinance violates the U.S. Constitution, as well as an order requiring the city to disband the board and reconstitute its membership without regard to race.
As part of his lawsuit, Wymore also sought a preliminary injunction blocking the city’s continued use of the racial quota while litigation continues. Judge Williams issued the injunction on Oct. 13, ruling that Wymore was likely to prevail should the case go to trial.
Williams ruled that while the stated purpose of the race-based provision of the selection process is “to root out biases, it also engages in inherent bias that tautologically presumes white people cannot possibly ever see things the way people of color can, and white people cannot possibly have an interest in justice for people of color. This presumption is based only on the color of one’s skin. It contradicts the provision’s purpose to eliminate presumptions in policing based on the color of skin. Not only is this a sad presumption, it is so vehemently incorrect.”
Williams noted that while it’s the city’s current position that the provision is being reviewed with an eye toward revisions, the city’s lawyers “never say how or in what ways it will be revised.” If the city’s intent is to address the issues raised in the lawsuit by changing the ordinance, “that is a tacit admission that it is unconstitutional as drafted,” Williams stated, adding that an injunction still is necessary.
“The court cannot take defendants at their word that the provision will be revised or done away with, especially when defendants have not clarified the exact revisions being made,” Williams ruled.
City’s suggestion that applicants lie about their race is ‘startling’
The city had also argued that the requirement that five board members “identify” as people of color, rather than “be” people of color, doesn’t amount to a racial quota because a person can self-identify as a particular race without actually being that race.
Williams flatly rejected that argument.
The city, Williams stated, appeared to be suggesting that Wymore could avoid discrimination and “evade the quota by lying and claiming that he identifies as a person of color … It matters not that plaintiff can self-identify as a race on the application; the suggestion that an applicant should just lie to get around a race requirement is not only startling, but it also does not cure the fact that anyone self-identifying as white is not considered for the board.”
(The ordinance) reflects an inherent belief that only people of color care about the issues facing people of color, and that white people do not care about people of color.
– U.S. District Judge C.J. Williams
The ordinance, Williams ruled, “requires a certain number of people from various races to sit on the board, and, as a result, excludes white people from even being considered for five of the seats. The requirement that a certain number of seats be preserved for a particular group is a quota. Defining the group by race is a racial quota.”
Acknowledging that “diversity is important,” Williams observed that the ordinance, apart from the quota, establishes a process to “consider” board applicants based on culture, gender, geographic diversity, and other factors which presumably include race.” That, Williams ruled, is constitutionally permissible.
The goal of diversity can be met, he stated, “without discounting people based on race once the limit for white members is met.” The “race quota is superfluous,” he said, given the city’s state intent of ensuring the board is diverse.
He said the city’s position is a difficult one, given the “great social upheaval by the populace about perceived racial bias in policing.” However, he added, if the city addresses that issue through a racial quota, “all that does is establish and enforce — and likely in an unconstitutional way — more racial biases on an issue that calls for unity.”
The ordinance, Williams ruled, “engages in a bias in the same manner it seeks to prevent in law enforcement,” and added that it “reflects an inherent belief that only people of color care about the issues facing people of color, and that white people do not care about people of color. That is a presumption based on bias.”
In February 2018, Williams was nominated to the bench by then-President Donald Trump to fill a seat vacated by U.S. District Judge Linda R. Reade. Williams was confirmed by the Senate in September 2018.
Wymore’s attorney is Alan R. Ostergren, a former Muscatine County prosecutor who now runs the Kirkwood Institute, a politically conservative organization that has taken cities, the state and school districts to court on other issues.
Gov. Kim Reynolds recently asked Ostergren to help represent the state in efforts to restrict abortion in Iowa through legislation that predates the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 24 decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
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