Landmark Decisions: Affirmative Action / Remedies

  • University of California Regents v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265 (1978)   
    The University of California at Davis Medical School had a regular and special admissions program, and reserved a certain number of seats for each. Under the special admissions program, disadvantaged minority applicants were not subject to a GPA cutoff and were not ranked against regular admissions program applicants. When Bakke applied to the School, it twice rejected his application under the regular admissions program. Both times, the School admitted applicants under its special admissions program with scores significantly lower than Bakke's. At trial, the court found that the special admissions program violated, among others, the Federal and State Constitutions, declared that the School could not take race into account in making admissions decisions, but did not order Bakke's admission. On appeal, the State Supreme Court ordered the School to admit Bakke. The US Supreme Court affirmed the order admitting Bakke to Davis and invalidating petitioner's special admissions program, but reversed the decision insofar as it prohibits petitioner from taking race into account as a factor in its future admissions decisions. This divisiveness of this case is evident from the six separate opinions it spawned. Justices Brennan, White, Marshall and Blackmun, who concurred in part and dissented in part, stated that the School's special admissions program was not unconstitutional.

  • Fullilove v. Klutznick, 448 U.S. 448 (1980)
    A federal minority business enterprise provision generally required state or local governments to set aside 10% of federally granted local public works funds to procure services or supplies from minority-owned businesses. Under implementing regulations and guidelines, the state or local government and their private prime contractors were also required to render certain types of assistance to minority-owned businesses to meet the 10% mark. Several contracting firms and associations filed suit alleging that the provision violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the equal protection component of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. The District Court upheld the validity of the MBE program, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The US Supreme Court upheld the minority business enterprise provision. In this case, the Justices authored five separate opinions.

  • Mississippi University for Women v. Hogan, 458 U.S. 718 (1982).
    The Mississippi University for Women, a state-supported institution, has from its inception limited its enrollment to women. The University denied Hogan, a male, admission to its School of Nursing because of his gender. Hogan sued, claiming that the single-sex admissions policy violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Held, a statute that discriminates on the basis of gender is unconstitutional unless the classification serves important governmental objectives and that the discriminatory means employed are substantially related to the achievement of those objectives. The Supreme Court found the single-sex admissions policy to be unconstitutional. Justice O'Connor, the first female Supreme Court Justice, authored the majority opinion. Justices Burger, Blackmun, Powell and Rehnquist dissented.

  • Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education, 476 U.S. 267 (1986)
    The Board of Education and a teacher's union entered into a collective-bargaining agreement, under which those with less seniority would be released during layoffs except that the percentage of personnel being laid off who are minorities could not exceed the percentage of employed minority personnel at the time of the layoff. Displaced nonminority teachers challenged this arrangement, alleging violations of the Equal Protection Clause and certain federal and state statutes. The District Court upheld the constitutionality of the layoff provision, holding that the racial preferences granted by the Board need not be grounded on a finding of prior discrimination but were permissible under the Equal Protection Clause as an attempt to remedy societal discrimination by providing "role models" for minority schoolchildren. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed. A four-justice plurality ruled that in the context of affirmative action, racial classifications must be justified by a compelling state purpose, and the means chosen by the State to effectuate that purpose must be narrowly tailored. Societal discrimination alone is insufficient to justify a racial classification. Rather, there must be convincing evidence of prior discrimination by the governmental unit involved before allowing limited use of racial classifications to remedy such discrimination. The plurality also discounted the "role model" theory because it would allow the Board to engage in discriminatory hiring and layoff practices long past the point required by any legitimate remedial purpose. Moreover, it did not bear any relationship to the harm caused by prior discriminatory hiring practices. Societal discrimination, without more, is too amorphous a basis for finding race-conscious state action and for imposing a racially classified remedy. Justices Marshall, Brennan, Blackmun and Stevens dissented.

  • United States v. Paradise, 480 U.S. 149 (1987)
    In 1972, the District Court found that for almost four decades, the Alabama Department of Public Safety had systematically excluded blacks from employment as state troopers in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. As a result, the Court issued an order imposing a hiring quota and requiring the Department to refrain from discriminating in its employment practices, including promotions. Despite several intermediate efforts, the situation did not improve. Finally, in 1983, the Court ordered that 50% of all promotions to certain ranks must be black with certain exemptions. A four justice plurality concluded that, even under a strict scrutiny analysis, the one-black-for-one-white promotion requirement is permissible under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Justice Stevens concurred in the judgment, stating that a party who has been found guilty of repeated and persistent violations of the law bears the burden of demonstrating that the courts's efforts to fashion effective relief exceed the bounds of "reasonableness." Justices O'Connor, Rehnquist, Scalia and White dissented.

  • City of Richmond v. J.A. Croson Co., 488 U.S. 469 (1989)
    Richmond adopted a Minority Business Utilization Plan which required prime contractors to subcontract at least 30% of the dollar amount of each city construction contract, with certain exemptions, to one or more "Minority Business Enterprises." The City adopted this Plan based on evidence that blacks were underrepresented among prime construction contract awardees and local construction associations, and statements that there had been widespread racial discrimination in the local, state, and national construction industries. However, no direct evidence was presented that the city had ever discriminated on the basis of race in letting contracts or that its prime contractors had discriminated against minority subcontractors. When Croson, a construction company, was denied a waiver from the Plan provisions and lost a contract, it sued, alleging that the Plan was unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause. The Supreme Court struck down the Plan because the city did not offer a compelling governmental interest that would authorize the use of an unyielding racial quota. The city had to establish past discrimination in the city's construction industry, instead of a generalized assertion that there has been past discrimination in the entire construction industry. Also, the Plan was not narrowly tailored to remedy the effects of prior discrimination, since it entitled a minority entrepreneur from anywhere in the country to an absolute preference over other citizens based solely on their race. Justices Blackmun, Brennan and Marshall dissented.

  • Metro Broadcasting, Inc. v. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), 497 U.S. 547 (1990).
    Under the Communications Act of 1934, the FCC adopted certain minority preference policies to promote programming diversity. The FCC believed that its past efforts to encourage minority participation in the broadcast industry had not resulted in sufficient broadcast diversity, and that this situation was detrimental not only to the minority audience but to all of the viewing and listening public. This case consolidated two challenges to these policies. In one, Metro Broadcasting challenged an FCC granted enhancement for minority ownership and management when comparing applications for new broadcast station licenses. In the other, Shurberg Broadcasting challenged the FCC's "distress sale" policy which allowed a broadcaster whose qualifications to hold a license have come into question to transfer that license to a minority enterprise that meets certain requirements before the FCC resolves the matter in a noncomparative hearing. Held, the FCC policies do not violate equal protection, since they bear the imprimatur of longstanding congressional support and direction and are substantially related to the achievement of the important governmental objective of broadcast diversity. Justices Kennedy, O'Connor, Rehnquist and Scalia dissented.

  • Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Pena, 515 U.S. 200 (1995)
    Most federal agency contracts must contain a subcontractor compensation clause, which gives a prime contractor a financial incentive to hire subcontractors certified as small businesses controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals, and requires the contractor to presume that such individuals include minorities or any other individuals found to be disadvantaged by the Small Business Administration (SBA). The prime contractor under a federal highway construction contract containing such a clause awarded a subcontract to a company that was certified as a small disadvantaged business. Adarand Constructors, Inc., which submitted the low bid on the subcontract but was not a certified business, filed suit, claiming that the race-based presumptions used in subcontractor compensation clauses violated the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause. The District Court granted the government's motion for summary judgment. In affirming, the Court of Appeals reviewed the federal race-based action under a Fullilove and Metro Broadcasting intermediate scrutiny standard. The Supreme Court overruled parts of Fullilove and Metro Broadcasting, and remanded the case for reconsideration. Held, all racial classifications, imposed by whatever federal, state, or local governmental actor, must be analyzed by a reviewing court under strict scrutiny. To the extent that Metro Broadcasting is inconsistent with that holding, it is overruled. Federal racial classifications, like those of a State, must serve a compelling governmental interest, and must be narrowly tailored to further that interest. Thus, to the extent that Fullilove held federal racial classifications to be subject to a less rigorous standard, it is no longer controlling. Justice Scalia concurred, but concluded that government can never have a "compelling interest" in discriminating on the basis of race in order to "make up" for past racial discrimination in the opposite direction. Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Souter and Stevens dissented.

Landmark Decisions: Civil Rights

  • Dred Scott v. Sanford, 60 U.S. 393 (1856)   
    Dred Scott, a slave, sued for his and his family's freedom in federal court. He alleged that his family became free when they were taken to a portion of the Louisiana territory where Congress had prohibited slavery. Alternatively, he alleged that he became free when he was taken to Illinois, and did not revert to a state of slavery when he was brought back to Missouri. The Supreme Court remanded the case and ordered it dismissed for lacks of jurisdiction. The Court held that negros, whose ancestors were imported into this country and sold as slaves, were not included under the word 'citizens' in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which the Constitution provides for and secures to citizens of the United States, including the privilege of suing in a United States court. In addition, the Court added that Congress acted unconstitutionally when it prohibited slavery and involuntary servitude in certain parts of the Louisiana Territory because the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution provides that no person shall be deprived of property without due process of law. An act of Congress which deprives a citizen of the United States of his property, merely because he came himself or brought his property into a particular Territory of the United States, and who had committed no offence against the laws, is not due process of law. Finally, the Court stated that Scott's status as free or slave depended not on the laws of Illinois, but on the laws of Missouri, which hold that he remains a slave. Justices Curtis and McLean dissented.

  • The Civil Rights Cases, 109 U.S. 3 (1883)
    The Civil Rights Act of 1875 provided that all persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the accomodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges of inns, public conveyances on land or water, theaters, and other places of public amusement. Several criminal and civil defendants charged with violating the act by denying equal accomodation to persons of color challenged the Act. The Supreme Court invalidated the challenged provisions of the Civil Rights Act, stating that Congress did not have the authority within the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendment to enact such a law. The Court explained that the Fourteenth Amendment was intended to right wrongful acts by states, not private individuals. Justice Harlan dissented.

  • Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896)   
    Louisiana enacted a statute requiring separate railway carriages for the white and colored races. The State charged Plessy with violating the statute when he refused to move from the colored railcar to the white railcar. The Supreme Court reviewed the statute under a reasonableness standard. Held, (1) the statute does not violate the Thirteenth Amendment which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude and (2) the enforced separation of the races, as applied to intrastate commerce, neither abridges the privileges or immunities of the colored man, deprives him of property without due process of law, nor denies him equal protection of the laws, within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court added that the enforced separation of the races did not stamp the colored race with a badge of inferiority. Justice Harlan dissented.

  • Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954)
    In Brown, the Supreme Court consolidated several related cases involving black children seeking admission to public schools in their community on a non-segregated basis. In each case, the children were denied admission to schools attended by white children under laws requiring or permitting racial segregation. The Supreme Court found that segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other "tangible" factors may be equal, deprives the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities. In the field of public education, the Court overruled the Plessy "separate but equal" doctrine.

  • Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. United States, 379 U.S. 241 (1964)
    The Heart of Atlanta Motel restricts its clientele to white persons, of which approximately 75% come from outside the state. Its owners, seeking to preserve this policy, sued to enjoin enforcement of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited racial discrimination in places of public accomodation affecting commerce. Held, the interstate movement of persons is "interstate commerce," which, under the Commerce Clause, Congress has the power to regulate. This power even extends to the regulation of local places of public accommodation which might have a substantial and harmful effect upon commerce. The racial discrimination prohibition does not violate the Fifth Amendment as being a deprivation of property or liberty without due process of law.

  • KATZENBACH v. McCLUNG, 379 U.S. 294 (1964)
    Ollie's Barbecue, a restaurant in Birmingham, Alabama, caters to local white customers with take-out service for Negroes, serving food a substantial portion of which has moved in interstate commerce, sued to enjoin appellants from enforcing against their restaurant and others Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which they claimed was unconstitutional. A three-judge District Court granted an injunction, holding that there was no demonstrable connection between food purchased in interstate commerce and sold in a restaurant and Congress' conclusion that discrimination in the restaurant would affect commerce so as to warrant regulation of local activities to protect interstate commerce. Held, Congress acted within its power to protect and foster commerce in extending coverage of Title II to restaurants serving food a substantial portion of which has moved in interstate commerce, since it had ample basis to conclude that racial discrimination by such restaurants burdened interstate trade.
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