Morton v. Mancari,
417 U.S. 535 (1974)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Morton v. Mancari, 417 U.S. 535 (1974)

Morton v. Mancari

No. 73-362

Argued April 24, 1974

Decided June 17, 1974

417 U.S. 535


Appellees, non-Indian employees of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), brought this class action claiming that the employment preference for qualified Indians in the BIA provided by the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 contravened the anti-discrimination provisions of the Equal Employment Opportunities Act of 1972, and deprived them of property rights without due process of law in violation of the Fifth Amendment. A three-judge District Court held that the Indian preference was implicitly repealed by § 11 of the 1972 Act proscribing racial discrimination in most federal employment, and enjoined appellant federal officials from implementing any Indian employment preference policy in the BIA.


1. Congress did not intend to repeal the Indian preference, and the District Court erred in holding that it was repealed by the 1972 Act. Pp. 417 U. S. 545-551.

(a) Since in extending general anti-discrimination machinery to federal employment in 1972, Congress in no way modified, and thus reaffirmed, the preferences accorded Indians by §§ 701(b) and 703(i) of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for employment by Indian tribes or by private industries located on or near Indian reservations, it would be anomalous to conclude that Congress intended to eliminate the longstanding Indian preferences in BIA employment, as being racially discriminatory. Pp. 417 U. S. 547-548.

(b) In view of the fact that, shortly after it passed the 1972 Act, Congress enacted new Indian preference laws as part of the Education Amendments of 1972, giving Indians preference in Government programs for training teachers of Indian children, it is improbable that the same Congress condemned the BIA preference as racially discriminatory. Pp. 417 U. S. 548-549.

Page 417 U. S. 536

(c) The 1972 extension of the Civil Rights Act to Government employment being largely just a codification of prior anti-discrimination Executive Orders, with respect to which Indian preferences had long been treated as exceptions, there is no reason to presume that Congress affirmatively intended to erase such preferences. P. 417 U. S. 549

(d) This is a prototypical case where an adjudication of repeal by implication is not appropriate, since the Indian preference is a longstanding, important component of the Government's Indian program, whereas the 1972 anti-discrimination provisions, being aimed at alleviating minority discrimination in employment, are designed to deal with an entirely different problem. The two statutes, thus not being irreconcilable, are capable of coexistence, since the Indian preference, as a specific statute applying to a specific situation, is not controlled or nullified by the general provisions of the 1972 Act. Pp. 417 U. S. 549-551.

2. The Indian preference does not constitute invidious racial discrimination in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, but is reasonable and rationally designed to further Indian self-government. Pp. 417 U. S. 551-555.

(a) If Indian preference laws, which were derived from historical relationships and are explicitly designed to help only Indians, were deemed invidious racial discrimination, 25 U.S.C. in its entirety would be effectively erased and the Government's commitment to Indians would be jeopardized. Pp. 417 U. S. 551-553.

(b) The Indian preference does not constitute "racial discrimination" or even "racial" preference, but is rather an employment criterion designed to further the cause of Indian self-government and to make the BIA more responsive to the needs of its constituent groups. Pp. 417 U. S. 553-554.

(c) As long as the special treatment of Indians can be tied rationally to the fulfillment of Congress' unique obligation toward Indians, such legislative judgments will not be disturbed. Pp. 417 U. S. 554-555.

359 F.Supp. 585, reversed and remanded.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Page 417 U. S. 537

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