Justices to Revisit Affirmative Action in Adarand Case

March 26, 2001 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - The Supreme Court has agreed to weigh in on a case that has affirmative action implications for employers competing for federal contracts.

The case, Adarand Constructors v. Mineta, involves a Colorado construction firm that had successfully challenged a highway construction program of the Transportation Department.

It offered bonuses to contractors if at least 10% of their subcontracting work went to “disadvantaged business enterprises.”  Minority-owned companies were presumed to be disadvantaged.

Adarand’s challenge of the 1990 program was rewarded with a major ruling from the court in 1995 that sharply restricted federal affirmative action programs. The Court held such programs to a strict standard that the aid be narrowly tailored to meet a compelling government interest. That standard set the bar too high for most programs to meet.

“Strict” Re-Construction

Following the ruling, Congress reauthorized the law, and the program was revised by the Transportation Department, keeping the presumption that minority-owned businesses were disadvantaged, and adding a presumption that included women-owned businesses as well.

Additionally, the Department now required that all companies claiming disadvantaged status also:

  • Certify they are socially and economically disadvantaged
  • Show their owner’s net worth is less than $750,000

Last fall the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the new program, finding it met the strict standard set by the Supreme Court. The 10th Circuit found strong support from Congress that minority-owned businesses suffered intentional discrimination in highway construction bidding.   

The case is Adarand Constructors v. Mineta, 00-730.

– Nevin Adams   editors@plansponsor.com