Justice Burger (Opinion of the Court)
448 U.S. 448
July 2, 1980
Federal law required that a percentage of local public works using federal funds must be awarded to minority groups. The petitioners challenged this law as violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Supreme Court upheld the law.
Mr. Chief Justice Burger announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion in which Mr. Justice White and Mr. Justice Powell joined.
We granted certiorari to consider a facial constitutional challenge to a requirement in a congressional spending program that, absent an administrative waiver, 10% of the federal funds granted for local public works projects must be used by the state or local grantee to procure services or supplies from business owned and controlled by members of statutorily identified minority groups.
In May 1977, Congress enacted the Public Works Employment Act… which authorized an additional $4 billion appropriation for federal grants to be made by the Secretary of Commerce, acting through the Economic Development Administration (EDA), to state and local governmental entities for use in local public works projects. Among the changes made was the addition of the provision that has become the focus of this litigation. Section 103 (f) (2) of the 1977 Act, referred to as the “minority business enterprise” or “MBE” provision requires that:
Except to the extent that the Secretary determines otherwise, no grant shall be made under this Act for any local public works project unless the applicant gives satisfactory assurance to the Secretary that at least 10 per centum of the amount of each grant shall be expended for minority business enterprises. For purposes of this paragraph, the term “minority business enterprise” means a business at least 50 per centum of the stock of which is owned by minority group members. For the purposes of the preceding sentence, minority group members are citizens of the United States who are Negroes, Spanish-speaking, Orientals, Indians, Eskimos, and Aleuts….
On November 30, 1977, petitioners filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York seeking declaratory and injunctive relief to enjoin enforcement of the MBE provision. Named as defendants were the Secretary of Commerce, as the program administrator, and the State and City of New York, as actual and potential project grantees. Petitioners are several associations of construction contractors and subcontractors Their complaint alleged that they had sustained economic in- jury due to enforcement of the 10% MBE requirement and that the MBE provision on its face violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the equal protection component of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, and various statutory antidiscrimination provisions.
After a hearing held the day the complaint was filed, the District Court denied a requested temporary restraining order and scheduled the matter for an expedited hearing on the merits. On December 19, 1977, the District Court issued a memorandum opinion upholding the validity of the MBE program and denying the injunctive relief sought….
The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed,… holding that “even under the most exacting standard of review the MBE provision passes constitutional muster.”… Considered in the context of many years of governmental efforts to remedy past racial and ethnic discrimination, the court found it “difficult to imagine” any purpose for the program other than to remedy such discrimination….
The MBE provision was enacted as part of the Public Works Employment Act of 1977….
The sponsor stated that the objective… was to direct funds into the minority business community, a sector of the economy sorely in need of economic stimulus but which, on the basis of past experience with government procurement programs, could not be expected to benefit significantly from the public works program as then formulated. He cited the marked statistical disparity that in fiscal year 1978 less than 1% of all federal procurement was concluded with minority business enterprises, although minorities comprised 15-18 % of the population. When the amendment was put forward… Rep. Mitchell reiterated the need to ensure that minority firms would obtain a fair opportunity to share in the benefits of this government program….
The legislative objectives of the MBE provision must be considered against the background of ongoing efforts directed toward deliverance of the century-old promise of equality of economic opportunity. The sponsors… in the House and the Senate expressly linked the provision to the existing administrative programs promoting minority opportunity in government procurement, particularly those related to § 8 (a) of the Small Business Act of 1958….
At the time the MBE provision was enacted, the regulations governing the § 8 (a) program defined “social or economic disadvantage” as follows:
An applicant concern must be owned and controlled by one or more persons who have been deprived of the opportunity to develop and maintain a competitive position in the economy because of social or economic disadvantage. Such disadvantage may arise from cultural, social, chronic economic circumstances or background, or other similar cause. Such persons include, but are not limited to, black Americans, American Indians,
Spanish-Americans, Oriental Americans, Eskimos, and Aleuts….
The guidelines accompanying these regulations provided that a minority business could not be maintained in the program, even when owned and controlled by members of the identified minority groups, if it appeared that the business had not been deprived of the opportunity to develop and maintain a competitive position in the economy because of social or economic disadvantage….
When we are required to pass on the constitutionality of an Act of Congress, we assume “the gravest and most delicate duty that this Court is called on to perform.” Blodgett v. Holden, 275 U.S. 142, 148 (1927) (opinion of Holmes, J.). A program that employs racial or ethnic criteria, even in a remedial context, calls for close examination; yet we are bound to approach our task with appropriate deference to the Congress, a co-equal branch charged by the Constitution with the power to “provide for the… general Welfare of the United States” and “to enforce by appropriate legislation” the equal protection guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment….
Here we pass, not on a choice made by a single judge or a school board, but on a considered decision of the Congress and the President. However, in no sense does that render it immune from judicial scrutiny and it “is not to say we ’defer’ to the judgment of the Congress… on a constitutional question,” or that we would hesitate to invoke the Constitution should we determine that Congress has overstepped the bounds of its constitutional power….
The clear objective of the MBE provision is disclosed by our necessarily extended review of its legislative and administrative background. The program was designed to ensure that, to the extent federal funds were granted under the Public Works Employment Act of 1977, grantees who elect to participate would not employ procurement practices that Congress had decided might result in perpetuation of the effects of prior discrimination which had impaired or foreclosed access by minority businesses to public contracting opportunities. The MBE program does not mandate the allocation of federal funds according to inflexible percentages solely based on race or ethnicity….
In enacting the MBE provision, it is clear that Congress employed an amalgam of its specifically delegated powers. The Public Works Employment Act of 1977, by its very nature, is primarily an exercise of the Spending Power…. This Court has recognized that the power to “provide for the… general Welfare” is an independent grant of legislative authority, distinct from other broad congressional powers…. Congress has frequently employed the Spending Power to further broad policy objectives by conditioning receipt of federal monies upon compliance by the recipient with federal statutory and administrative directives. This Court has repeatedly upheld against constitutional challenge the use of this technique to induce governments and private parties to cooperate voluntarily with federal policy….
The MBE program is structured within this familiar legislative pattern. The program conditions receipt of public works grants upon agreement by the state or local governmental grantee that at least 10% of the federal funds will be devoted to contracts with minority businesses to the extent this can be accomplished by overcoming barriers to access and by awarding contracts to bona fide MBE’s. It is further conditioned to require that MBE bids on these contracts are competitively priced, or might have been competitively priced but for the present effects of prior discrimination. Admittedly, the problems of administering this program with respect to these conditions may be formidable. Although the primary responsibility for ensuring minority participation falls upon the grantee, when the procurement practices of the grantee involve the award of a prime contract to a general or prime contractor, the obligations to assure minority participation devolve upon the private contracting party; this is a contractual condition of eligibility for award of the prime contract….
… Had Congress chosen to do so, it could have drawn on the Commerce Clause to regulate the practices of prime contractors on federally funded public works projects…. The legislative history of the MBE provision shows that there was a rational basis for Congress to conclude that the sub-contracting practices of prime contractors could perpetuate the prevailing impaired access by minority businesses to public contracting opportunities, and that this inequity has an effect on interstate commerce. Thus Congress could take necessary and proper action to remedy the situation….
With respect to the MBE provision, Congress had abundant evidence from which it could conclude that minority businesses have been denied effective participation in public contracting opportunities by procurement practices that perpetuated the effects of prior discrimination. Congress, of course, may legislate without compiling the kind of “record” appropriate with respect to judicial or administrative proceedings. Congress had before it, among other data, evidence of a long history of marked disparity in the percentage of public contracts awarded to minority business enterprises. This disparity was considered to result not from any lack of capable and qualified minority businesses, but from the existence and maintenance of barriers to competitive access which had their roots in racial and ethnic discrimination, and which continue today, even absent any intentional discrimination or other unlawful conduct.
Although much of this history related to the experience of minority businesses in the area of federal procurement, there wag direct evidence before the Congress that this pattern of disadvantage and discrimination existed with respect to state and local construction contracting as well. In relation to the MBE provision, Congress acted within its competence to determine that the problem was national in scope. Although the Act recites no preambulary “findings” on the subject, we are satisfied that Congress had abundant historical basis from which it could conclude that traditional procurement practices, when applied to minority businesses, could perpetuate the effects of prior discrimination. Accordingly, Congress reasonably determined that the prospective elimination of these barriers to. minority firm access to public contracting opportunities generated by the 1977 Act was appropriate to ensure that those businesses were not denied equal opportunity to participate in federal grants to state and local governments, which is one aspect of the equal protection of the laws. Insofar as the MBE program pertains to the actions of state and local grantees, Congress could have achieved its objectives by use of its power under 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment. We conclude that in this respect the objectives of the MBE provision are within the scope of the Spending Power….
We now turn to the question whether, as a means to accomplish these plainly constitutional objectives, Congress may use racial and ethnic criteria, in this limited way, as a condition attached to a federal grant… Congress may employ racial or ethnic classifications in exercising its Spending or other legislative Powers only if those classifications do not violate the equal protection component of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. We recognize the need for careful judicial evaluation to assure that any congressional program that employs racial or ethnic criteria to accomplish the objective or remedying the present effects of past discrimination is narrowly tailored to the achievement of that goal.
… Here we are not dealing with a remedial decree of a court but with the legislative authority of Congress. Furthermore, petitioners have challenged the constitutionality of the MBE provision on its face; they have not sought damages or other specific relief for injury allegedly flowing from specific applications of the program; nor have they attempted to show that as applied in identified situations, the MBE provision violated the constitutional or statutory rights of any party to this case. In these circumstances, given a reasonable construction and in light of its projected administration, if we find the MBE program on its face to be free of constitutional defects, it must be upheld as within congressional’ power….
Our review of the regulations and guidelines governing administration of the MBE provision reveals that Congress enacted the program as a strictly remedial measure; moreover, it is a remedy that functions prospectively, in the manner of an injunctive decree. Pursuant to the administrative program, grantees and their prime contractors are required to seek out all available, qualified, bona fide MBE’s; they are required to provide technical assistance as needed to lower or waive bonding requirements where feasible, to solicit the aid of the Office of Minority Business Enterprise, the Small Business Administration or other sources for assisting MBE’s to obtain required working capital, and to give guidance through the intricacies of the bidding process The program assumes that grantees who undertake these efforts in good faith will obtain at least 10 % participation by minority business enterprises. It is recognized that, to achieve this target, contracts will be awarded to available, qualified, bona fide MBE’s even though they are not the lowest competitive bidders, so long as their higher bids when challenged, are found to reflect merely attempts to cover costs inflated by the present effects of prior disadvantage and discrimination…. There is available to the grantee a provision authorized by Congress for administrative waiver on a case-by-case basis should there be a demonstration that, despite affirmative efforts, this level of participation cannot be achieved without departing from the objectives of the program…. There is also an administrative mechanism, including a complaint procedure, to ensure that only bona fide MBE’s are encompassed by the remedial program, and to prevent unjust participation in the program by those minority firms whose access to public contracting opportunities is not impaired by the effects of prior discrimination.
As a threshold matter, we reject the contention that in the remedial context the Congress must act in a wholly “color-blind” fashion….
In… school desegregation cases we dealt with the authority of a federal court to formulate a remedy for unconstitutional racial discrimination. However, the authority of a court to incorporate racial criteria into a remedial decree also extends to statutory violations. Where federal anti-discrimination laws have been violated, an equitable remedy may in the appropriate case include a racial or ethnic factor…. In another setting, we have held that a state may employ racial criteria that are reasonably necessary to assure compliance with federal voting rights legislation, even though the state action does not entail the remedy of a constitutional violation….
When we have discussed the remedial powers of a federal court, we have been alert to the limitation that “[t]he power of the federal courts to restructure the operation of local and state governmental entities is not plenary…. [Al federal court is required to tailor the scope of the remedy to fit the nature and extent of the . . . violation.” Dayton Board of Education v. Brinkman, 433 U.S. 406, 419-420 (1977)….
Here we deal . . . not with the limited remedial powers of a federal court… but with the broad remedial powers of Congress. It is fundamental that in no organ of government, state or federal, does there repose a more comprehensive remedial power than in the Congress, expressly charged by the Constitution with competence and authority to enforce equal protection guarantees. Congress not only may induce voluntary action to assure compliance with existing federal statutory or constitutional antidiscrimination provisions, but also, where Congress has authority to declare certain conduct unlawful, it may, as here, authorize and induce state action to avoid such conduct….
A more specific challenge to the MBE program is the charge that it impermissibly deprives nonminority businesses of access to at least some portion of the government contracting opportunities generated by the Act. It must be conceded that ’by its objective of remedying the historical impairment of access, the MBE provision can have the effect of awarding some contracts to MBE’s which otherwise might be awarded to other businesses, who may themselves be innocent of any prior discriminatory actions. Failure of nonminority firms to receive certain contracts is, of course, an incidental consequence of the * program, not part of its objective; similarly, past impairment of minority-firm access to public contracting opportunities may have been an incidental consequence of “business-as-usual” by public contracting agencies and among prime contractors.
It is not a constitutional defect in this program that it may disappoint the expectations of nonminority firms. When effectuating a limited and properly tailored remedy to cure the effects of prior discrimination, such “a sharing of the burden” by innocent parties is not impermissible…. The actual “burden” shouldered by nonminority firms is relatively light in this connection when we consider the scope of this public works program as compared with overall construction contracting opportunities. Moreover, although we may assume that the complaining parties are innocent of any discriminatory conduct, it was within congressional power to act on the assumption that in the past some nonminority businesses may have reaped competitive benefit over the years from the virtual exclusion of minority firms from these contracting opportunities.
Another challenge to the validity of the ” MBE program is the assertion that it is underinclusive–that it limits its benefit to specified minority groups rather than extending its remedial objectives to all businesses whose access to government contracting is impaired by the effects of disadvantage or discrimination. Such an extension would, of course, be appropriate for Congress to provide; it is not a function for the court….
The Congress has not sought to give select minority groups a preferred standing in the construction industry, but has embarked on a remedial program to place them on a more equitable footing with respect to public contracting opportunities. There has been no showing in this case that Congress has inadvertently effected an invidious discrimination by excluding from coverage an identifiable minority group that has been the victim of a degree of disadvantage and discrimination equal to or greater than that suffered by the groups encompassed by the MBE program. It is not inconceivable that on very special facts a case might be made to challenge the congressional decision to limit MBE eligibility to the particular minority groups identified in the Act…. But on this record we find no basis to hold that Congress is without authority to undertake the kind of limited remedial effort represented by the MBE program. Congress, not the courts, has the heavy burden of dealing with a host of intractable economic and social problems.
Congress, after due consideration, perceived a pressing need to move forward with new approaches in the continuing effort to achieve the goal of equality of economic opportunity. In this effort, Congress has necessary latitude to try new techniques such as the limited use of racial and ethnic criteria to accomplish remedial objectives; this especially so in programs where voluntary cooperation with remedial measures is induced by placing conditions on federal expenditures. That the program may press the outer limits of congressional authority affords no basis for striking it down.
Any preference based on racial or ethnic criteria must necessarily receive a most searching examination to make sure that it does not conflict with constitutional guarantees. This case is one which requires, and which has received, that kind of examination. This opinion does not adopt, either expressly or implicitly, the formulas of analysis articulated in such cases as University of California Regents v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265 (1978). However, our analysis demonstrates that the MBE provision would survive judicial review under either “test” articulated in the several Bakke opinions. The MBE provision of the Public Works Employment Act of 1977 does not violate the Constitution.
Mr. Justice Powell, concurring.
By the time Congress enacted § 103 (f) (2) in 1977, it knew that other remedies had failed to ameliorate the effect of racial discrimination in the construction industry. Although the problem had been addressed by antidiscrimination legislation, executive action to remedy employment discrimination in the construction industry, and federal aid to minority businesses, the fact remained that minority contractors were receiving less than 1% of federal contracts Congress also knew that economic recession threatened the construction industry as a whole. Section 103 (f) (2) was enacted as part of a bill designed to stimulate the economy by appropriating $4 billion in federal funds for new public construction. Since the emergency public construction funds were to be distributed quickly, any remedial provision designed to prevent those funds from perpetuating past discrimination also had to be effective promptly.
Moreover, Congress understood that any effective remedial program had to provide minority contractors the experience necessary for continued success without federal assistance. And Congress knew that the ability of minority group members to gain experience had been frustrated by the difficulty of entering the construction trades. The set-aside program adopted as part of this emergency legislation serves each of these concerns because it takes effect as soon as funds are expended under PWEA and because it provides minority contractors with experience that could enable them to compete without governmental assistance.
The § 103 (f) (2) set-aside is not a permanent part of Federal contracting requirements. As soon as the PWEA program concludes, this set-aside program ends. The temporary nature of this remedy ensures that a race-conscious program will not last longer than the discriminatory effects it is designed to eliminate. It will be necessary for Congress to re-examine the need for a race-conscious remedy before it extends or re-enacts § 103 (f) (2)….
A race-conscious remedy should not be approved without consideration of an additional crucial factor–the effect of the set-aside upon innocent third parties…. In this case, the petitioners contend with some force that they have been asked to bear the burden of the set-aside even though they are innocent of wrong-doing. I do not believe, however, that their burden is so great that the set-aside must be disapproved…. The PWEA appropriated $4 billion for public work projects of which it could be expected that approximately $400 million would go to minority contractors. The Court of Appeals calculated that the set-aside would reserve about .25% of all the funds expended yearly on construction work in the United States for approximately 4% of the Nation’s contractors who are members of a minority group…. The set-aside would have no effect on the ability of the remaining 96% of contractors to compete for 99.75% of construction funds. In my view, the effect of the set-aside is limited and so widely dispersed that its use is consistent with fundamental fairness.
Consideration of these factors persuades me that the set-aside is a reasonably necessary means of furthering the compelling govern- , mental interest in redressing the discrimina- tion that affects minority contractors. Any marginal unfairness to innocent non-minority contractors is not sufficiently significant–or sufficiently identifiable–to outweigh the governmental interest served by § 103 (f) (2). When Congress acts to remedy identified discrimination, it may exercise discretion in choosing a remedy that is reasonably necessary to accomplish its purpose. Whatever the exact breadth of that discretion, I believe that it encompasses the selection of the set-aside in this case….
In the history of this Court and this country, few questions have been more divisive than those arising from governmental action taken on the basis of race. Indeed, our own decisions played no small part in the tragic legacy of government-sanctioned discrimination. See Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896); Dred Scott v. Sanford, 19 How. 393 (60 U.S.) (1857). At least since the decision in Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), the Court has been resolute in its dedication to the principle that the Constitution envisions a Nation where race is irrelevant. The time cannot come too soon when no governmental decision will be based upon immutable characteristics of pigmentation or origin. But in our quest to achieve a society free from racial classification, we cannot ignore the claims of those who still suffer from the effects of identifiable discrimination.
Distinguishing the rights of all citizens to be free from racial classifications from the rights of some citizens to be made whole is a perplexing, but necessary, judicial task…. I believe that the use of racial classifications, which are fundamentally at odds with the ideals of a democratic society implicit in the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses, cannot be imposed simply to serve transient social or political goals, however worthy they may be. But the issue there turns on the scope of congressional power, and Congress has been given a unique constitutional role in the enforcement of the post-Civil War Amendments. In this case, where Congress determined that minority contractors were victims of purposeful discrimination and where Congress chose a reasonably necessary means to effectuate its purpose, I find no constitutional reason to invalidate § 103 (f) (2).
Mr. Justice Stewart, with whom Mr. Justice Rehnquist joins, dissenting.
“Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens…. The law regards man as man, and takes no account of his surroundings or of his color…. “Those words were written by a Member of this Court 84 years ago. Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537, 559 (Harlan, J. dissenting). His colleagues disagreed with him, and held that a statute that required the separation of people on the basis of their race was constitutionally valid because it was a “reasonable” exercise of legislative power and had been “enacted in good faith for the promotion [of] the public good…. Id., at 550. Today, the Court upholds a statute that accords a preference to citizens who are “Negroes, Spanish-speaking, Orientals, Indians, Eskimos, and Aleuts,” for much the same reasons that Plessy v. Ferguson was wrong, and I respectfully dissent.
The equal protection standard of the Constitution has one clear and central mean-ing–it absolutely prohibits invidious discrimination by government. That standard must be met by every State under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment…. And that standard must be met by the United States itself under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment under our Constitution, any official action that treats a person differently on account of his race or ethnic origin is inherently suspect and presumptively invalid….
On its face, the minority business enterprise (MBE) provision at issue in this case denies the equal protection of the law… The statute, on its face and in effect… bars a class to which the petitioners belong from having the opportunity to receive a government benefit, and bars the members of that class solely on the basis of their race or ethnic background. This is precisely the kind of law that the guarantee of equal protection forbids.
The Court’s attempt to characterize the law as a proper remedial measure to counter-act the effects of past or present racial discrimination is remarkably unconvincing. The Legislative Branch of government is not a court of equity. It has neither the dispassionate objectivity nor the flexibility that are needed to mold a race-conscious remedy around the single objective of eliminating the effects of past or present discrimination.
But even assuming that Congress has the power, under § 5 of the Fourteenth ” Amendment or some other constitutional provision, to remedy previous illegal racial discrimination, there is no evidence that Congress has in the past engaged in racial discrimination in its disbursement of federal contracting funds. The MBE provision thus pushes the limits of any such justification far beyond the equal protection standard of the Constitution. Certainly, nothing in the Constitution gives Congress any greater authority to impose detriments on the basis of race than is afforded the Judicial Branch. And a judicial decree that imposes burdens on the basis of race can be upheld only where its sole purpose is to eradicate the actual effects of illegal race discrimination….
The Fourteenth Amendment was adopted to ensure that every person must be treated equally by each State regardless of the color of his skin. The Amendment promised to carry to its necessary conclusion a fundamental principle upon which this Nation had been founded–that the law would honor no preference based on lineage. Tragically, the promise of 1868 was not immediately fulfilled, and decades passed before the States and the Federal Government were finally directed to eliminate detrimental classifications based on race. Today, the Court derails this achievement and places its imprimatur on the creation once again by government of privileges based on birth.
The Court, moreover, takes this drastic step without, in my opinion, seriously considering the ramifications of its decision. Laws that operate on the basis of race require , definitions of race. Because of the Court’s decision today, our statute books will once again have to contain laws that reflect the odious practice of delineating the qualities that make one person a Negro and make another white. Moreover, racial discrimination, even “good faith” racial discrimination, ” is inevitably a two-edged sword. “[P]referential programs may only reinforce common stereotypes holding that certain groups are unable to achieve success without special protection based on a factor having no relationship to individual worth.” University of California Regents v. Bakke, supra, 438 U.S., at 298 (opinion of POWELL, J.). Most importantly, by making race a relevant criterion once again in its own affairs, the Government implicitly teaches the public that the apportionment of rewards and penalties can legitimately be made according to race–rather than according to merit or ability–and that people can, and perhaps should, view themselves and others in terms of their racial characteristics. Notions of “racial entitlement” will be fostered, and private discrimination will necessarily be encouraged….
There are those who think that we need a new Constitution, and their views may someday prevail. But under the Constitution we have, one practice in which government may never engage is the practice of racism-not even “temporarily” and not even as an “experiment.”
For these reasons, I would reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals.
Mr. Justice Stevens, dissenting.
The interest in facilitating and encouraging the participation by minority business enterprises in the economy is unquestionably legitimate. Any barrier to such entry and growth–whether grounded in the law or in irrational prejudice–should be vigorously and thoroughly removed. Equality of economic and investment opportunity is a goal of no less importance than equality of * employment opportunity. This statute, however, is not designed to remove any barriers to entry. Nor does its sparse legislative history detail any insuperable or even significant obstacles to entry into the competitive market….
It is unfortunately but unquestionably true that irrational racial prejudice persists today and continues to obstruct minority participation in a variety of economic pursuits, presumably including the construction industry. But there are two reasons why this legislation will not eliminate, or even tend to eliminate, such prejudice. First, prejudice is less likely to be a significant factor in the public sector of the economy than in the private sector because both federal and state laws have prohibited discrimination in the award of public contracts for many years. Second, and of greater importance, an absolute preference that is unrelated to a minority firm’s ability to perform a contract inevitably will engender resentment on the part of competitors excluded from the market for a purely racial reason and skepticism on the part of customers and suppliers aware of the statutory classification. It thus seems clear to me that this Act cannot be defended as an appropriate method of reducing racial prejudice.
The argument that our history of discrimination has left the entire membership of each of the six racial classes identified in the Act less able to compete in a free market than others is more easily stated than proved. The reduction in prejudice that has occurred during the last generation has accomplished much less than was anticipated; it nevertheless remains true that increased opportunities have produced an ever increasing number of demonstrations that members of disadvantaged races are entirely capable not merely of competing on an equal basis, but also of excelling in the most demanding professions. But, even though it is not the actual predicate for this legislation, a statute of this kind inevitably is perceived by many as resting on an assumption that those who are granted this special preference are less qualified in some respect that is identified” purely by their race. Because that perception-especially when fostered by the Congress of the United States–can only exacerbate rather than reduce racial prejudice, it will delay the time when race will become a truly irrelevant, or at least insignificant, factor. Unless Congress clearly articulates the need and basis for a racial classification, and also tailors the classification to its justification, the Court should not uphold this kind of statute….
The ultimate goal must be to eliminate entirely from governmental decisionmaking such irrelevant factors as a human being’s race. The removal of barriers to access to political and economic processes serves that goal. But the creation of new barriers can only frustrate true progress. For as MR. JUSTICE POWELL and MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS have perceptively observed, such protective barriers reinforce habitual ways of thinking in terms of classes instead of individuals. Preferences based on characteristics acquired at birth foster intolerance and antagonism against the entire membership of the favored classes. For this reason, I am firmly convinced that this “temporary measure” will disserve the goal of equal opportunity….
… [R]ather than take the substantive position expressed in MR. JUSTICE STEWART’S dissenting opinion, I would hold this statute unconstitutional on a narrower ground. It cannot fairly be characterized as a “narrowly tailored” racial classification because it simply raises too many serious questions that Congress failed to answer or even to address in a responsible way. The risk that habitual attitudes toward classes of persons, rather than analysis of the relevant characteristics of the class, will serve as a basis for a legislative classification if present when benefits are distributed as well as when burdens are imposed. In the past, traditional attitudes too often provided the only explanation for discrimination against women, aliens, illegitimates, and black citizens. Today there is a danger that awareness of past injustice will lead to automatic acceptance of new classifications that are not in fact justified by attributes characteristic of the class as a whole.
When Congress creates a special preference, or a special disability, for a class of persons, it should identify the characteristic that justifies the special treatment. When the classification is defined in racial terms, I believe that such particular identification is imperative.
In this case, only two conceivable bases for differentiating the preferred classes from society as a whole have occurred to me: (1) that they were the victims of unfair treatment in the past and (2) that they are less able to compete in the future. Although the first of these factors would justify an appropriate remedy for past wrongs, for reasons that I have already stated, this statute is not such a remedial measure. The second factor is simply not true. Nothing in the record of this case, the legislative history of the Act, or experience that we may notice judicially provides any support for such a proposition. It is up to Congress to demonstrate that its unique statutory preference is justified by a relevant characteristic that is shared by the members of the preferred class. In my opinion, because it has failed to make that demonstration, it has also failed to discharge its duty to govern impartially embodied in the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
I respectfully dissent.