Magazine article Newsweek

Who Needs a Fair Deal? Challenging an Effort to Boost Minorities and Women

Magazine article Newsweek

Who Needs a Fair Deal? Challenging an Effort to Boost Minorities and Women

Article excerpt

It has been 24 years since then-mayor Maynard Jackson created Atlanta's "minority set-asides," earmarking a certain amount of government business for firms owned by women or minorities. Companies controlled by black, Latino, Asian and female entrepreneurs currently hold about a third of the city's service and construction contracts. But now a conservative group, the Southeastern Legal Foundation, contends Atlanta's policy is unconstitutional and says it will go to court to overturn the program, probably this week. The dispute has some business people running scared, and has led Bill Campbell, the city's current mayor, to issue something like a declar ation of war. "We will fight to the death," Campbell told a city-hall rally recently. "There will be no compromise, no capitulation whatsoever."

Behind the defiant rhetoric lies a political and legal quagmire--the changing view, in U.S. courts and public opinion, of affirmative action in general and set-aside programs in particular. Since 1989 the U.S. Supreme Court has held that city governments may use set-asides only as a last resort and only where there is ongoing discrimination against minorities and women; otherwise, the court said, such preferences may not be based on race or gender. Atlanta revamped its program to meet those criteria but, like some other localities, may not have gone far enough. In June, a federal judge threw out a nearly identical program in surrounding Fulton County, Ga. The Southeastern Legal Foundation's plan to sue the city "isn't about race," said foundation president Matthew Glavin. …

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