WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court, in opening its
new term, has set the stage for a broad review of court-ordered
affirmative ac tion plans that the Reagan administration contends
discriminate against whites.
The court has agreed to review two federal court orders opposed by
- One required preferences in promotions for black and Hispanic
firefighters in Cleveland to make up for past discrimination by the
- The other penalized a New York-New Jersey sheet-metal workers'
union for failing to comply with a membership quota and other
preferences for non-whites that had been imposed to rectify past
discrimination by the union.
In accepting these and 22 other cases for review, the court added
significant new issues to a docket already packed with controversy,
at a time when the administration is forcefully urging the court to
adopt its conservative legal doctrines.
The court also agreed to review a lower court decision holding a
capital murder defendant's conviction unconstitutional because all
opponents of the death penalty had been removed from the jury. The
outcome could affect the fate of hundreds of death row prisoners.
Other issues the justices agreed to consider include whether
suspension of a student who used sexual innuendo in addressing a high
school assembly violated his First Amendment rights; whether a wife
said to be her husband's accomplice in espionage can be forced to
testify against him, and whether sexual harassment of an employee by
a supervisor invariably makes the company for which they both work
liable under sex discrimination laws.
The two affirmative action cases pose a clash between the
administration and most lower federal courts on the power of the
judiciary, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, to use
racial preferences to make up for past job discrimination against
blacks and other minorities.
They join another case already on the court's docket, involving
the constitutionality of voluntary affirmative action plans adopted
by government employers as part of their labor agreements.
Together, these three cases provide the court, which has been
closely divided on affirmative action issues, with a chance to pass
definitive judgment on the administration's campaign against plans
that favor non-whites over whites.
The justices heard arguments earlier this month in four of the 88
cases they had previously agreed to review, including the first case
in which it has considered the constitutionality of partisan