US Supreme Court deals double blow to affirmative action

RUPERT CORNWELL

Washington

Supporters of affirmative action in the United States were yesterday dealt a heavy blow by two Supreme Court rulings that can only strengthen the political campaign to do away with federal programmes designed to protect blacks and other racial minorities. They may also portend a broader reshaping of US civil-rights laws.

In the first case, regarded as a crucial test by affirmative- action friends and foe alike, the court sided with a white Colorado businessman who claimed he had been a victim of reverse discrimination when he lost a federal roadbuilding contract to a minority-owned company, despite an lower initial bid.

Overturning a lower-court dismissal of the complaint, the court declared that henceforth affirmative-action schemes at all levels of government should be subject to "strict scrutiny"- that is, used only in specific instances to counter clear cases of discrimination. That has long been the guideline for state and local programmes. It will now apply to federal laws, traditionally broader and more symbolic.

In a second ruling the justices, by a 5-4 margin, sided with the state of Missouri in a desegregation battle, deciding a lower federal court had exceeded its authority when it told Kansas City it had to continue a desegregation plan until student standards had reached the national average. Here, too, the court was saying measures against past school segregation had done as much as could be expected; to extend them risked distorting the system.

Far more important than their direct impact on the cases in question was the broader message on the future of affirmative action - an issue that contributed to the Republican sweep of Congress in November and which is bound to feature in the 1996 presidential contest.

The celebrated "white male anger" that helped to fuel the Republican victory was largely a product of resentment at programmes held to discriminate unfairly against whites. Nowhere is the movement stronger than California, where a proposal to eliminate such programmes is likely to be on the ballot next year.

No one, though, was scrutinising yesterday's rulings more closely than the White House. Only too aware of the growing hostility to affirmative action, President Bill Clinton ordered a review of federal programmes four months ago. But release of the findings has been delayed, in the hope that the Supreme Court might help Democrats off the horns of a political dilemma.

To scrap the bulk of existing schemes would cause outrage among blacks, the Democrats' most loyal constituency; to come out squarely behind affirmative action, however, would dent Mr Clinton's chances of retaining white middle- class votes, essential to win a second term.

Affirmative action, in short, is a dream "wedge issue" for Republicans.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
News
i100
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown, daughter of the late singer Whitney Houston, poses at the premiere of
people
News
people
News
The frequency with which we lie and our ability to get away with it both increase to young adulthood then decline with age, possibly because of changes that occur in the brain
scienceRoger Dobson knows the true story, from Pinocchio to Pollard
Voices
The male menopause: those affected can suffer hot flushes, night sweats, joint pain, low libido, depression and an increase in body fat, among other symptoms
voicesSo the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Life and Style
health
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen