House Speaker Newt Gingrich said Thursday racial prejudice continues to limit opportunities for black Americans, but added he thinks it is possible for everyone to succeed without affirmative action programs that require federal government or legal assistance.
"I believe there is real prejudice in America," Gingrich said during an interview with black reporters working for major news organizations. "I don't believe we live in a color-blind society.
"But I don't think you can find individual justice by litigation," he said. "I think when you try to create that backward-looking grievance system, you teach people exactly the wrong habits. They end up spending their life waiting for the laws to come instead of spending their life seeking opportunity."
In an hourlong discourse that repeatedly returned to his views on affirmative action, Gingrich said federal programs intended to assist minority businesses should be scrapped and a new system erected that will provide opportunities for blacks, women and other groups.
"I'm looking for positive models, not ones based on genetic codes that exploit a lawyer-defined system," he said.
The breakfast meeting, organized by National Minority Politics, a conservative, black-owned magazine, invited Gingrich and black journalists to discuss current events. A smiling and jovial Gingrich freely offered his opinions on school busing, federal assistance to cities and civil rights history.
His comments attacking government affirmative action--the nation's 160 federal programs that take stock of race and gender in hiring, promotions and awarding of federal contracts and benefits--followed a key ruling on the issue earlier this week by the Supreme Court. In a 5-4 ruling on a Colorado case, the high-court majority declared that preferential treatment based on race is almost always unconstitutional even if it is intended to correct past discrimination against minority groups.
The White House said Thursday that a planned announcement of its findings from a broad review of federal affirmative action programs has been delayed as officials scramble to understand the impact of the court's decision.
Gingrich, however, said the GOP-led House would press on with efforts to repeal federal affirmative action programs. But he said he did not know when such legislation would be introduced because more pressing issues are facing Congress.
"We're very interested in maximizing affirmative action for individuals and for people who are financially and culturally deprived," he said. "But I think that there is a growing consensus against genetically based patterns and grievance-based patterns."
Gingrich said civil rights leaders--spurred on by lawyers--created an affirmative action system that rewards people for belonging to groups and not for individual initiative or merit.
"We ended up with a civil rights movement that was too lawyer-dominated . . . and too dominated by people who thought that there was some way to get fairness of outcome instead of equality of opportunity," Gingrich said.
"I'm prepared to say to the poor, you have to learn new habits," Gingrich said. "The habits of being poor don't work.
"In this country in 1996, if you work twice as hard, you're going to succeed," he added.