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?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific