March 10, 1998 in Nation/World

Court Won’t Revive Affirmative-Action Program

Laurie Asseo Associated Press
 

The Supreme Court, increasingly skeptical of efforts to give minorities special help without proof of discrimination, refused on Monday to revive a Florida county’s affirmative-action program for awarding construction contracts.

The court, without comment, turned away Dade County’s argument that discrimination in the local construction industry is severe enough to justify an effort to aid black-owned companies.

The court also declined to hear an appeal by a minority contractors’ group that sought to reinstate portions of similar programs in Dade County for companies owned by Hispanics and women. Monday’s actions were not decisions and therefore set no national precedent.

The justices have strictly limited affirmative-action programs in state and local public works projects since 1989, saying such efforts must be narrowly tailored to remedy the effects of past discrimination.

However, a lawyer for the minority contractors’ group said that people should not give up on trying to meet that strict legal standard.

“We know there is discrimination and that it’s unfortunately alive and well,” said Thomas F. Pepe, who represents the Allied Minority Contractors Association. “It’ just that it’s very difficult to prove discrimination.”

With the proper research on the continuing effects of discrimination, it is possible to win court decisions upholding affirmative action programs, Pepe said.

“The construction industry and municipalities need some guidance,” added Bob Cuevas, assistant MiamiDade County attorney. “The standard is strict, but it should be somehow meet-able.”

In 1995, the Supreme Court said federal programs that aim to help minorities must meet the same strict standard required of state and local governments.

The high court also has restricted the use of racial considerations in drawing election districts, while lower courts have cut back on affirmative action in public university admission policies.

But the Republican-led Congress has not done away with every federal affirmative action program. Last week, the Senate voted to keep a 15-year-old federal program that helps women and minorities win highway construction contracts.

In another affirmative-action case Monday, the justices rejected the appeal of a former Nevada college professor who said she was discriminated against because she is white.

Yvette Farmer said the University of Nevada, Reno, unlawfully hired a black sociology professor before her and paid her less when it hired her later.

In other action, the court:

Agreed to decide whether police need a search warrant before peering through a gap in window blinds to detect possibly illegal behavior.

Ruled that federal copyright law does not protect companies that export their products from having them shipped back by another firm for sale in the United States.

Set aside a Baltimore man’s conviction for a 1993 beating death, ruling he was denied a fair trial because a co-defendant’s confession was read to the jury.

The Florida case involved affirmative-action programs adopted in Dade County for black contractors in 1982 and for Hispanic and women contractors in 1994.


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