City of Richmond v. J. A. Croson Co.
488 U.S. 469 (1989)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

City of Richmond v. J. A. Croson Co., 488 U.S. 469 (1989)

City of Richmond v. J. A. Croson Co.

No. 87-998

Argued October 5, 1988

Decided January 23, 1989

488 U.S. 469

Syllabus

Appellant city adopted a Minority Business Utilization Plan (Plan) requiring prime contractors awarded city construction contracts to subcontract at least 30% of the dollar amount of each contract to one or more "Minority Business Enterprises" (MBE's), which the Plan defined to include a business from anywhere in the country at least 51% of which is owned and controlled by black, Spanish-speaking, Oriental, Indian, Eskimo, or Aleut citizens. Although the Plan declared that it was "remedial" in nature, it was adopted after a public hearing at which no direct evidence was presented that the city had discriminated on the basis of race in letting contracts, or that its prime contractors had discriminated against minority subcontractors. The evidence that was introduced included: a statistical study indicating that, although the city's population was 50% black, only 0.67% of its prime construction contracts had been awarded to minority businesses in recent years; figures establishing that a variety of local contractors' associations had virtually no MBE members; the city's counsel's conclusion that the Plan was constitutional under Fullilove v. Klutznick,448 U. S. 448; and the statements of Plan proponents indicating that there had been widespread racial discrimination in the local, state, and national construction industries. Pursuant to the Plan, the city adopted rules requiring individualized consideration of each bid or request for a waiver of the 30% set-aside, and providing that a waiver could be granted only upon proof that sufficient qualified MBE's were unavailable or unwilling to participate. After appellee construction company, the sole bidder on a city contract, was denied a waiver and lost its contract, it brought suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the Plan was unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause. The Federal District Court upheld the Plan in all respects, and the Court of Appeals affirmed, applying a test derived from the principal opinion in Fullilove, supra, which accorded great deference to Congress' findings of past societal discrimination in holding that a 10% minority set-aside for certain federal construction grants did not violate the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment. However, on appellee's petition for certiorari in this case, this Court vacated and remanded for further consideration in light of its intervening decision in Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education,476 U. S. 267, in

Page 488 U. S. 470

which the plurality applied a strict scrutiny standard in holding that a race-based layoff program agreed to by a school board and the local teachers' union violated the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause. On remand, the Court of Appeals held that the city's Plan violated both prongs of strict scrutiny, in that (1) the Plan was not justified by a compelling governmental interest, since the record revealed no prior discrimination by the city itself in awarding contracts, and (2) the 30% set-aside was not narrowly tailored to accomplish a remedial purpose.

Held: The judgment is affirmed.

822 F.2d 1355, affirmed.

JUSTICE O'CONNOR delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, III-B, and IV, concluding that:

1. The city has failed to demonstrate a compelling governmental interest justifying the Plan, since the factual predicate supporting the Plan does not establish the type of identified past discrimination in the city's construction industry that would authorize race-based relief under the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause. Pp. 488 U. S. 498-506.

(a) A generalized assertion that there has been past discrimination in the entire construction industry cannot justify the use of an unyielding racial quota, since it provides no guidance for the city's legislative body to determine the precise scope of the injury it seeks to remedy, and would allow race-based decisionmaking essentially limitless in scope and duration. The city's argument that it is attempting to remedy various forms of past societal discrimination that are alleged to be responsible for the small number of minority entrepreneurs in the local contracting industry fails, since the city also lists a host of nonracial factors which would seem to face a member of any racial group seeking to establish a new business enterprise, such as deficiencies in working capital, inability to meet bonding requirements, unfamiliarity with bidding procedures, and disability caused by an inadequate track record. Pp. 488 U. S. 498-499.

(b) None of the "facts" cited by the city or relied on by the District Court, singly or together, provide a basis for a prima facie case of a constitutional or statutory violation by anyone in the city's construction industry. The fact that the Plan declares itself to be "remedial" is insufficient, since the mere recitation of a "benign" or legitimate purpose for a racial classification is entitled to little or no weight. Similarly, the views of Plan proponents as to past and present discrimination in the industry are highly conclusory, and of little probative value. Reliance on the disparity between the number of prime contracts awarded to minority businesses and the city's minority population is also misplaced, since the proper statistical evaluation would compare the percentage of MBE's

Page 488 U. S. 471

in the relevant market that are qualified to undertake city subcontracting work with the percentage of total city construction dollars that are presently awarded to minority subcontractors, neither of which is known to the city. The fact that MBE membership in local contractors' associations was extremely low is also not probative, absent some link to the number of MBE's eligible for membership, since there are numerous explanations for the dearth of minority participation, including past societal discrimination in education and economic opportunities, as well as both black and white career and entrepreneurial choices. Congress' finding in connection with the set-aside approved in Fullilove that there had been nationwide discrimination in the construction industry also has extremely limited probative value, since, by including a waiver procedure in the national program, Congress explicitly recognized that the scope of the problem would vary from market area to market area. In any event, Congress was acting pursuant to its unique enforcement powers under § 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 488 U. S. 499-504.

(c) The "evidence" relied upon by JUSTICE MARSHALL's dissent -- the city's history of school desegregation and numerous congressional reports -- does little to define the scope of any injury to minority contractors in the city or the necessary remedy, and could justify a preference of any size or duration. Moreover, JUSTICE MARSHALL's suggestion that discrimination findings may be "shared" from jurisdiction to jurisdiction is unprecedented, and contrary to this Court's decisions. Pp. 488 U. S. 504-506.

(d) Since there is absolutely no evidence of past discrimination against Spanish-speaking, Oriental, Indian, Eskimo, or Aleut persons in any aspect of the city's construction industry, the Plan's random inclusion of those groups strongly impugns the city's claim of remedial motivation. Pp. 488 U. S. 506.

2. The Plan is not narrowly tailored to remedy the effects of prior discrimination, since it entitles a black, Hispanic, or Oriental entrepreneur from anywhere in the country to an absolute preference over other citizens based solely on their race. Although many of the barriers to minority participation in the construction industry relied upon by the city to justify the Plan appear to be race neutral, there is no evidence that the city considered using alternative, race-neutral means to increase minority participation in city contracting. Moreover, the Plan's rigid 30% quota rests upon the completely unrealistic assumption that minorities will choose to enter construction in lockstep proportion to their representation in the local population. Unlike the program upheld in Fullilove, the Plan's waiver system focuses upon the availability of MBE's, and does not inquire whether the particular MBE seeking a racial preference has suffered from the effects of past discrimination by the city or prime contractors. Given the fact that the city must already consider bids and

Page 488 U. S. 472

waivers on a case-by-case basis, the city's only interest in maintaining a quota system, rather than investigating the need for remedial action in particular cases, would seem to be simply administrative convenience, which, standing alone, cannot justify the use of a suspect classification under equal protection strict scrutiny. Pp. 488 U. S. 507-508.

JUSTICE O'CONNOR, joined by THE CHIEF JUSTICE and JUSTICE WHITE, concluded in Part II that, if the city could identify past discrimination in the local construction industry with the particularity required by the Equal Protection Clause, it would have the power to adopt race-based legislation designed to eradicate the effects of that discrimination. The principal opinion in Fullilove cannot be read to relieve the city of the necessity of making the specific findings of discrimination required by the Clause, since the congressional finding of past discrimination relied on in that case was made pursuant to Congress' unique power under § 5 of the Amendment to enforce, and therefore to identify and redress violations of, the Amendment's provisions. Conversely, § 1 of the Amendment, which includes the Equal Protection Clause, is an explicit constraint upon the power of States and political subdivisions, which must undertake any remedial efforts in accordance with the dictates of that section. However, the Court of Appeals erred to the extent that it followed by rote the Wygant plurality's ruling that the Equal Protection Clause requires a showing of prior discrimination by the governmental unit involved, since that ruling was made in the context of a race-based policy that affected the particular public employer's own workforce, whereas this case involves a state entity which has specific state law authority to address discriminatory practices within local commerce under its jurisdiction. Pp. 488 U. S. 486-493.

JUSTICE O'CONNOR, joined by THE CHIEF JUSTICE, JUSTICE WHITE, and JUSTICE KENNEDY, concluded in Parts III-A and V that:

1. Since the Plan denies certain citizens the opportunity to compete for a fixed percentage of public contracts based solely on their race, Wygant's strict scrutiny standard of review must be applied, which requires a firm evidentiary basis for concluding that the underrepresentation of minorities is a product of past discrimination. Application of that standard, which is not dependent on the race of those burdened or benefited by the racial classification, assures that the city is pursuing a remedial goal important enough to warrant use of a highly suspect tool, and that the means chosen "fit" this compelling goal so closely that there is little or no possibility that the motive for the classification was illegitimate racial prejudice or stereotype. The relaxed standard of review proposed by JUSTICE MARSHALL's dissent does not provide a means for determining that a racial classification is in fact "designed to further remedial goals," since it accepts the remedial nature of the classification

Page 488 U. S. 473

before examination of the factual basis for the classification's enactment and the nexus between its scope and that factual basis. Even if the level of equal protection scrutiny could be said to vary according to the ability of different groups to defend their interests in the representative process, heightened scrutiny would still be appropriate in the circumstances of this case, since blacks comprise approximately 50% of the city's population and hold five of nine seats on the City Council, thereby raising the concern that the political majority may have acted to disadvantage a minority based on unwarranted assumptions or incomplete facts. Pp. 488 U. S. 493-498.

2. Even in the absence of evidence of discrimination in the local construction industry, the city has at its disposal an array of race-neutral devices to increase the accessibility of city contracting opportunities to small entrepreneurs of all races who have suffered the effects of past societal discrimination, including simplification of bidding procedures, relaxation of bonding requirements, training, financial aid, elimination or modification of formal barriers caused by bureaucratic inertia, and the prohibition of discrimination in the provision of credit or bonding by local suppliers and banks. Pp. 488 U. S. 509-511.

JUSTICE STEVENS, although agreeing that the Plan cannot be justified as a remedy for past discrimination, concluded that the Fourteenth Amendment does not limit permissible racial classifications to those that remedy past wrongs, but requires that race-based governmental decisions be evaluated primarily by studying their probable impact on the future. Pp. 488 U. S. 511-518.

(a) Disregarding the past history of racial injustice, there is not even an arguable basis for suggesting that the race of a subcontractor or contractor on city projects should have any relevance to his or her access to the market. Although race is not always irrelevant to sound governmental decisionmaking, the city makes no claim that the public interest in the efficient performance of its construction contracts will be served by granting a preference to minority business enterprises. Pp. 488 U. S. 512-513.

(b) Legislative bodies such as the city council, which are primarily policymaking entities that promulgate rules to govern future conduct, raise valid constitutional concerns when they use the political process to punish or characterize past conduct of private citizens. Courts, on the other hand, are well equipped to identify past wrongdoers and to fashion remedies that will create the conditions that presumably would have existed had no wrong been committed, and should have the same broad discretion in racial discrimination cases that chancellors enjoy in other areas of the law to fashion remedies against persons who have been proved guilty of violations of law. Pp. 488 U. S. 513-514.

Page 488 U. S. 474

(c) Rather than engaging in debate over the proper standard of review to apply in affirmative action litigation, it is more constructive to try to identify the characteristics of the advantaged and disadvantaged classes that may justify their disparate treatment. Here, instead of carefully identifying those characteristics, the city has merely engaged in the type of stereotypical analysis that is the hallmark of Equal Protection Clause violations. The class of persons benefited by the Plan is not limited to victims of past discrimination by white contractors in the city, but encompasses persons who have never been in business in the city, minority contractors who may have themselves been guilty of discrimination against other minority group members, and firms that have prospered notwithstanding discriminatory treatment. Similarly, although the Plan unquestionably disadvantages some white contractors who are guilty of past discrimination against blacks, it also punishes some who discriminated only before it was forbidden by law, and some who have never discriminated against anyone. Pp. 488 U. S. 514-517.

JUSTICE KENNEDY concluded that the Fourteenth Amendment ought not to be interpreted to reduce a State's power to eradicate racial discrimination and its effects in both the public and private sectors, or its absolute duty to do so where those wrongs were caused intentionally by the State itself, except where there is a conflict with federal law or where, as here, a state remedy itself violates equal protection. Although a rule striking down all racial preferences which are not necessary remedies to victims of unlawful discrimination would serve important structural goals by eliminating the necessity for courts to pass on each such preference that is enacted, that rule would be a significant break with this Court's precedents that require a case-by-case test, and need not be adopted. Rather, it may be assumed that the principle of race neutrality found in the Equal Protection Clause will be vindicated by the less absolute strict scrutiny standard, the application of which demonstrates that the city's Plan is not a remedy, but is itself an unconstitutional preference. Pp. 488 U. S. 518-520.

JUSTICE SCALIA, agreeing that strict scrutiny must be applied to all governmental racial classifications, concluded that:

1. The Fourteenth Amendment prohibits state and local governments from discriminating on the basis of race in order to undo the effects of past discrimination, except in one circumstance: where that is necessary to eliminate their own maintenance of a system of unlawful racial classification. Moreover, the State's remedial power in that instance extends no further than the scope of the constitutional violation, and does not encompass the continuing effects of a discriminatory system once the system itself has been eliminated. Pp. 488 U. S. 520-525.

Page 488 U. S. 475

2. The State remains free to undo the effects of past discrimination in permissible ways that do not involve classification by race -- for example, by according a contracting preference to small or new businesses or to actual victims of discrimination who can be identified. In the latter instance, the classification would not be based on race, but on the fact that the victims were wronged. Pp. 488 U. S. 526-528.

O'CONNOR, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, III-B, and IV, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE, STEVENS, and KENNEDY, JJ., joined, an opinion with respect to Part II, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE, J., joined, and an opinion with respect to Parts III-A and V, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE and KENNEDY, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., post, p. 488 U. S. 511, and KENNEDY, J., post, p. 488 U. S. 518, filed opinions concurring in part and concurring in the judgment. SCALIA, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 488 U. S. 520. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 488 U. S. 528. BLACKMUN., J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 488 U. S. 561.

Page 488 U. S. 476

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