Illinois House passes bill radically expanding scope of affirmative action, renaming it 'positive action'

A bill that has already passed the Illinois state House of Representatives and awaits a state Senate vote would grant preferences in hiring and promotion to people with "any characteristic whatsoever that might disadvantage somebody, regardless of whether the characteristic is inherited or self-inflicted."  A lack of education, for instance.

Mark Glennon explains Illinois House Bill 3914 at the site he founded, Wirepoints:

It would have state agencies give hiring preference to anybody with a "protected characteristic." The bill's definition of that term is the key. It includes "any characteristic which may be used, either directly or indirectly, to discriminate against or place at a disadvantage such persons having that characteristic."

So, it's not just involuntary traits like race or gender, it's anything that would disadvantage somebody, even if self-imposed. Anything.

As you think about examples of how absurd this is, it's important to remember this is not about nondiscrimination. It's about creating new preferences for anybody with a "protected characteristic."

Illinois State Capitol (photo credit: Jimmy Emerson, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license).

He offers a number of examples of characteristics that would be covered and result in preferences:

Or what about applicants who are unintelligent, even those who are so because they haven't been motivated enough to educate themselves? And what about those who simply lack experience? They, too, generally fare poorly in the labor market and those traits also fit within the definition of "protected characteristics." The bill would call for them to get a preference over those who are smarter or more experienced, and no distinction would be made if those traits stemmed from simple lack of effort.

There is a limitation:

It does not apply if the characteristic makes the person less qualified than other applicants. Specifically, the bill says that favorable consideration in the process of recruitment or promotion shall only be allowed if "the person having the protected characteristic is as qualified as the person not having the protected characteristic."

But that seeming stopgap is not as sweeping as one might first assume for most jobs:

[T]raits like intelligence, education and experience often only bear on qualification up to a certain point, especially for entry-level and low-skill jobs. The "as qualified as" standard therefore often loses any meaning. (snip)

Another fundamental problem with the bill is that its concept of protected characteristics is impossibly vague. Countless traits arguably disadvantage some people in life, but the bill would call for state agencies to identify those traits and reward them. It's important to note that the definition of protected characteristics is not limited to traits related to the job at issue. Any trait that makes life worse in or out of the workplace can be covered by the bill.

Hat tip: Ed Lasky.

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