Social Justice and Racial Quotas: Is Discrimination Against Disfavored Groups Permissible?

In 2003, 118 applicants took examinations, approved by the EEOC, for promotions in the New Haven Fire Department. However, the results showed that no black and at most two hispanic applicants would be eligible for promotion to either lieutenant or captain. Despite over-representing minorities in the development process of the testing protocols, the outcome of the test was deemed unfair, because the city of New Haven effectively views race as a group qualification for jobs related to public safety, and the result of the examination were thrown out. The city further stated its reasons for denying certification to the results as (1) the population of candidates who passed the test included a lower percentage of minorities than the population that took the test; (2) the city’s goal of diversity (fewer whites employed) was undermined by the results; (3) white candidates are not “role models” to non-whites; (4) the City would face criticism and political discomfort; (5) the city did not want to defend the test from Title VII suits brought by the minority applicant for political reasons.

18 candidates who passed the test, including one hispanic, sued the city for violations of Title VII and other state and federal statutory provisions, as well as to vindicate their right under the Equal Protection Clause of the XIVth amendment of the Constitution of the United States. The district court granted defendant’s motion for summary judgment, and denied plaintiffs motion, holding that the Equal Protection Clause had not been violated because the cities action was race neutral in throwing out the results of all applicants regardless of race. The court acknowledged that facially neutral actions could be unconstitutional if they were motivated by racial animus or a discriminatory purpose. The 2nd Circuit affirmed the district court in a one paragraph per curiam opinion.

Issue Areas:

Individual Liberty, Limited Government

Question(s) Presented:

1. Is an action motivated by the racial distribution of the results racially motivated for the purposes of strict scrutiny?

2. Has the city stated a compelling government interest as is necessary to survive strict scrutiny?


Additional Background:

This Court denied the constitutionality of “rigid racial quotas” even to correct the supposed impact of discrimination prior to the Civil Rights Act. City of Richmond v. J.A. Crimson Co., 488 U.S. 469, 499 (1989).

ALF’s Amicus Brief:

Atlantic Legal argues as amici that city action of throwing out exam results was motivated solely by the racial distribution of the results that were arrived at by a race neutral process. If a government actor is motivated purely by altering the racial distribution of results then its purpose is purely discriminatory and denies those adversely effected the equal protection of the laws. Because the city was racially motivated in its actions, they must survive strict scrutiny to be constitutional. Adarand Constructors v. Pena, 515 U.S. 200, 227 (1995). The district court was in error in requiring a showing of only overt racial animus to trigger strict scrutiny, as this Court’s precedents require only a showing of racial purpose or motivation. Hunt v. Cromartie, 526 U.S. 541, 546 (1999). Because the city did not state a compelling state interest, merely dissatisfaction with whites as role models, which looks like racial animus and has already been rejected as a compelling interest by this Court, and the percentage of those that passed who were white, it cannot survive strict scrutiny. Atlantic Legal asks this Court to reverse the courts below and affirm the right of Americans to be judged by their merits rather than their race.

Status:

On June 29, 2009, the Supreme Court issued a favorable opinion.

Date Originally Posted: February 26, 2009

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