480 U. S. 149
February 25, 1987
For decades, Alabama discriminated against blacks in hiring state troopers. Finally, in 1972, a District Court judge addressed this unconstitutional discrimination by mandating that Alabama hire a black 50% of the time when a spot came open, until blacks accounted for 25% of the total state trooper force. Alabama dragged its feet in response to this order, and almost never gave the black troopers it hired promotions. Finally, in 1984, the District Court imposed another remedy: blacks would have to receive 50% of the promotions until a workable system was put in place to insure that promotion discrimination would not happen in the future. The United States, intervening as a petitioner, objected to this order, claiming that it would violate the equal protection clause by discriminating against whites.
The Court upheld the District Court’s remedy in a 5-4 vote. Brennan, joined by Marshall, Blackmun, and Powell, wrote the plurality opinion. Brennan said that a remedy which takes account of race must be narrowly tailored to serve a compelling government interest. Ridding promotions in state police forces from racial discrimination was such a compelling interest, even if promotion was not the initial focus of the original ruling from 1972. The remedy was also narrowly tailored. It was reasonable response to Alabama’s foot dragging, it only applied until non-discriminatory hiring procedures were developed, it solved the existing trooper imbalance quickly, and it did not require the termination of any white troopers. Given all this, the remedy did not violate the equal protection clause.
Stevens concurred in judgment. Unlike Brennan, he did not feel that the District Court was even required to make its remedies narrowly tailored. Stevens argued that a court should have broad discretion in addressing racial discrimination, and that remedies should stand as long as they were reasonable. Powell joined the plurality in full, and wrote a concurrence. It added little of substance, but it underscored Brennan’s argument that the remedy was narrowly tailored when examined against the facts of the case.
O’Connor dissented, and was joined by Rehnquist and Scalia. She felt that the remedy focused too much on speed and percentages, and that there was too little concern about the racial discrimination that the remedy temporarily mandated. She also argued that there were a lot of other less intrusive remedies that the District Court didn’t even bother to stop and consider. White filed a two sentence dissent which contained the unelaborated statement that he agreed with most of O’Connor’s arguments.
From time to time, one comes across power hungry and self-important District judges who impose truly extraordinary remedies in the face of violations which do not merit such raw exercises of judicial fiat. Paradise is a borderline case for me. Like O’Connor, I do think the District Court should have found another remedy in light of the equal protection issues raised by reverse discrimination. Given how long the litigation had run though, the remedy may have been barely within the bounds of discretion. If there’s any lesson to be learned from the tortuous Paradise saga, it’s that it’s best not to discriminate in the first instance.