Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Peña

PETITIONER: Adarand Constructors, Inc.
LOCATION: U.S. Department of Transportation

DOCKET NO.: 93-1841
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

CITATION: 515 US 200 (1995)
ARGUED: Jan 17, 1995
DECIDED: Jun 12, 1995

Drew S. Days, III - Argued the cause for the respondents
William Perry Pendley - Argued the cause for the petitioner

Facts of the case

Adarand, a contractor specializing in highway guardrail work, submitted the lowest bid as a subcontractor for part of a project funded by the United States Department of Transportation. Under the terms of the federal contract, the prime contractor would receive additional compensation if it hired small businesses controlled by "socially and economically disadvantaged individuals." [The clause declared that "the contractor shall presume that socially and economically disadvantaged individuals include Black Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, Asian Pacific Americans, and other minorities...." Federal law requires such a subcontracting clause in most federal agency contracts]. Another subcontractor, Gonzales Construction Company, was awarded the work. It was certified as a minority business; Adarand was not. The prime contractor would have accepted Adarand's bid had it not been for the additional payment for hiring Gonzales.


Is the presumption of disadvantage based on race alone, and consequent allocation of favored treatment, a discriminatory practice that violates the equal protection principle embodied in the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment?

Media for Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Peña

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 17, 1995 in Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Peña

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 12, 1995 in Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Peña

Sandra Day O'Connor:

The second case, I have to announce comes to us from the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.

The petitioner is Adarand Constructors.

It challenges federal statues and regulations that give firms control by members of certain racial group an advantage in bidding on government contracts.

Adarand claims that the race based presumptions contained in the statutes and regulations violate the guarantee of equal protection contained in Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause.

The Districts Court rules in favor of the government.

The United States Court of Appeals for Tenth Circuit affirmed.

In so doing, the Court of Appeals applied a lenient intermediate standard of review to the racial classifications of that issue, relying on our decisions in Fullilove v. Klutznick and Metro Broadcasting, Inc. v. FCC.We granted the petition of Adarand Constructors for certiorari, and we now vacate the Court of Appeals’ judgment and remand the case for further proceedings.

We have long recognized that equal protection of the laws is a personal right, guaranteed by the constitution to every individual.

We have also recognized that laws classifying citizens by race pose an especially grave threat to that right, because in most cases there is no good reason for government, federal or state, to distinguish between citizens on the basis of race.

As we explain in today’s opinion that basic principle of equal protection as a personal right is the basis for a long line for our cases, establishing that all racial classifications are suspect and to be carefully reviewed by courts.

That the standard of review of racial classifications does not change, depending on the race of the effected persons and that equal protection analysis is the same for federal and state governments.

After a 1989 decision in Richmond v. J. A. Croson Co, which held that all state imposed racial classifications must be reviewed under strict scrutiny.

One might have expected that federal racial classifications would be subject to the same strict standard.

In 1990, however, in the case of Metro Broadcasting, Inc. v. FCC, this court held that certain racial classifications enacted by the Federal government were subject only to intermediate scrutiny.

In so doing, the case reopened matters that our precious cases seem to have settled, and we can be underlying principle that equal protection is a personal right applicable to all persons of all races.

We hold today that Metro Broadcasting’s departure from that principle was a mistake of sufficient magnitude that the doctrine of stare decisis does not require adherence to it, and we therefore, overruled Metro Broadcasting.

In so far as it held certain racial classifications to an intermediate standard of review.

Henceforth, the single standard of the strict scrutiny applies to all racial classifications imposed by whatever federal state or local government actor.

We make clear however that the strict scrutiny is not strict in theory, but they hold in fact.

We recognize the unhappy persistence of both the practice and the lingering effects of racial discrimination against minority groups in this country, and nothing we say today disqualifies government from acting in response to it.

The purpose of strict scrutiny is to afford all racial classifications, a careful and searching review, in order to distinguish legitimate from illegitimate use of race in governmental decision making.

When that careful review shows that a racial classification serves a compelling state interest and is narrowly tailored to further that interest, the classification as constitutional.

Moving then this case for the lower courts to decide in the first instance, whether the program challenged here can be at standard.

The opinion is for the court accepting so far as that might be in consistent with the views expressed in Justice Scalia’s concurring statement, and except for part 3C, which is joined by only two members of the court.

Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas have each filed opinions concurring in part and concurring in the judgment.

Justice Stevens has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice Ginsburg joins.

Justice Souter has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justices Ginsburg and Breyer join.

Justice Ginsburg has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice Breyer joins.