City of Richmond v. J.A. Croson

Beginning with this case in 1989, the Supreme Court began to cut back on the leeway it had given affirmative action programs. The Court struck down a set-aside program mandated by the city of Richmond, Virginia, which required prime contractors awarded city construction contracts to subcontract at least 30 percent of the dollar amount of each contract to one or more “Minority Business Enterprises.” The Court ruled that the city failed to demonstrate compelling governmental interest justifying the plan, and the plan was not narrowly tailored to remedy effects of prior discrimination.

In handing down this ruling, the Court determined that any judicial review of municipal affirmative action plans would be reviewed with “strict scrutiny.” Under the strict scrutiny test, defendants are required to establish they have a compelling interest in justifying the measure or that the affirmative action program advances some important governmental or societal purpose. For all practical purposes, this ruling makes it very hard to justify an affirmative action plan unless past discrimination can be shown, and the under representation of minorities is a product of that discrimination.

Inside City of Richmond v. J.A. Croson