In The

Supreme Court of the United States




Decided January 23, 1989

Justice O’Connor, For the Court


City of Richmond v. J.A. Croson Co., 488 U.S. 469 (1989), was a case in which the United States Supreme Court held that the city of Richmond's minority set-aside program, which gave preference to minority business enterprises (MBE) in the awarding of municipal contracts, was unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause. The Court found that the city failed to identify both the need for remedial action and that other non-discriminatory remedies would be insufficient.

Croson involved a minority set-aside program in the awarding of municipal contracts. Richmond, Virginia, with a black population of just over 50 percent had set a 30 percent goal in the awarding of city construction contracts, based on its findings that local, state, and national patterns of discrimination had resulted in all but complete lack of access for minority-owned businesses.

Topic: Civil Rights*Court vote: 6–3
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Joining O'Connor opinion: Chief Justice REHNQUIST Chief Justice REHNQUIST Justice WHITE Justice WHITE
Joining opinion in part: Justice KENNEDY Justice KENNEDY Justice STEVENS Justice STEVENS
Holding: Racial quotas for awarding government contracts are not justified by general statistical evidence of inequality. The city did not investigate any race-neutral methods to correct the imbalance, nor did its 30% goal correspond to any actual measured injury. Strict scrutiny is warranted, a test which Richmond's law fails.
Citation: 488 U.S. 469 Docket: 87–998Audio: Listen to this case's oral arguments at Oyez
This is one of Justice O'Connor's more commonly cited opinions by legal scholars when reviewing her tenure on the Supreme Court.

* As categorized by the Washington University Law Supreme Court Database

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Justice O'CONNOR announced the judgment of the Court and delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, III-B, and IV, an opinion with respect to Part II, in which THE CHIEF JUSTICE and Justice WHITE join, and an opinion with respect to Parts III-A and V, in which THE CHIEF JUSTICE, Justice WHITE, and Justice KENNEDY join.

In this case, we confront once again the tension between the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of equal treatment to all citizens, and the use of race-based measures to ameliorate the effects of past discrimination on the opportunities enjoyed by members of minority groups in our society. In Fullilove v. Klutznick, 448 U.S. 448, 100 S.Ct. 2758, 65 L.Ed.2d 902 (1980), we held that a congressional program requiring that 10% of certain federal construction grants be awarded to minority contractors did not violate the equal protection principles embodied in the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Relying largely on our decision in Fullilove, some lower federal courts have applied a similar standard of review in assessing the constitutionality of state and local minority set-aside provisions under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. See, e.g. South Florida Chapter, Associated General Contractors of America, Inc. v. Metropolitan Dade County, 723 F.2d 846 (CA11), cert. denied, 469 U.S. 871, 105 S.Ct. 220, 83 L.Ed.2d 150 (1984); Ohio Contractors Assn. v. Keip, 713 F.2d 167 (CA6 1983). Since our decision two Terms ago in Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education, 476 U.S. 267, 106 S.Ct. 1842, 90 L.Ed.2d 260 (1986), the lower federal courts have attempted to apply its standards in evaluating the constitutionality of state and local programs which allocate a portion of public contracting opportunities exclusively to minority-owned businesses. See, e.g., Michigan Road Builders Assn., Inc. v. Milliken, 834 F.2d 583 (CA6 1987), appeal docketed, No. 87-1860; Associated General Contractors of Cal. v. City and Cty. of San Francisco, 813 F.2d 922 (CA9 1987). We noted probable jurisdiction in this case to consider the applicability of our decision in Wygant to a minority set-aside program adopted by the city of Richmond, Virginia.

The Plan defined an MBE as "[a] business at least fifty-one (51) percent of which is owned and controlled... by minority group members." § 12-23, p. 941. "Minority group members" were defined as "[c]itizens of the United States who are Blacks, Spanish-speaking, Orientals, Indians, Eskimos, or Aleuts." Ibid. There was no geographic limit to the Plan; an otherwise qualified MBE from anywhere in the United States could avail itself of the 30% set-aside. The Plan declared that it was "remedial" in nature, and enacted "for the purpose of promoting wider participation by minority business enterprises in the construction of public projects." § 12-158(a). The Plan expired on June 30, 1988, and was in effect for approximately five years. Ibid. 1

The Plan authorized the Director of the Department of General Services to promulgate rules which "shall allow waivers in those individual situations where a contractor can prove to the satisfaction of the director that the requirements herein cannot be achieved." § 12-157. To this end, the Director promulgated Contract Clauses, Minority Business Utilization Plan (Contract Clauses). Paragraph D of these rules provided:

No partial or complete waiver of the foregoing [30% set-aside] requirement shall be granted by the city other than in exceptional circumstances. To justify a waiver, it must be shown that every feasible attempt has been made to comply, and it must be demonstrated that sufficient, relevant, qualified Minority Business Enterprises... are unavailable or unwilling to participate in the contract to enable meeting the 30% MBE goal." ¶ D, Record, Exh. 24, p. 1; see J.A. Croson Co. v. Richmond, 779 F.2d 181, 197 (CA4 1985) (Croson I).

The Director also promulgated "purchasing procedures" to be followed in the letting of city contracts in accordance with the Plan. Id., at 194. Bidders on city construction contracts were provided with a "Minority Business Utilization Plan Commitment Form." Record, Exh. 24, p. 3. Within 10 days of the opening of the bids, the lowest otherwise responsive bidder was required to submit a commitment form naming the MBE's to be used on the contract and the percentage of the total contract price awarded to the minority firm or firms. The prime contractor's commitment form or request for a waiver of the 30% set-aside was then referred to the city Human Relations Commission (HRC). The HRC verified that the MBE's named in the commitment form were in fact minority owned, and then either approved the commitment form or made a recommendation regarding the prime contractor's request for a partial or complete waiver of the 30% set-aside. Croson I, 779 F.2d, at 196. The Director of General Services made the final determination on compliance with the set-aside provisions or the propriety of granting a waiver. Ibid. His discretion in this regard appears to have been plenary. There was no direct administrative appeal from the Director's denial of a waiver. Once a contract had been awarded to another firm a bidder denied an award for failure to comply with the MBE requirements had a general right of protest under Richmond procurement policies. Richmond, Va., City Code, § 12-126(a) (1985).

The Plan was adopted by the Richmond City Council after a public hearing. App. 9-50. Seven members of the public spoke to the merits of the ordinance: five were in opposition, two in favor. Proponents of the set-aside provision relied on a study which indicated that, while the general population of Richmond was 50% black, only 0.67% of the city's prime construction contracts had been awarded to minority businesses in the 5-year period from 1978 to 1983. It was also established that a variety of contractors' associations, whose representatives appeared in opposition to the ordinance, had virtually no minority businesses within their membership. See Brief for Appellant 22 (chart listing minority membership of six local construction industry associations). The city's legal counsel indicated his view that the ordinance was constitutional under this Court's decision in Fullilove v. Klutznick, 448 U.S. 448, 100 S.Ct. 2758, 65 L.Ed.2d 902 (1980). App. 24. Councilperson Marsh, a proponent of the ordinance, made the following statement:

There is some information, however, that I want to make sure that we put in the record. I have been practicing law in this community since 1961, and I am familiar with the practices in the construction industry in this area, in the State, and around the nation. And I can say without equivocation, that the general conduct of the construction industry in this area, and the State, and around the nation, is one in which race discrimination and exclusion on the basis of race is widespread." Id., at 41.

There was no direct evidence of race discrimination on the part of the city in letting contracts or any evidence that the city's prime contractors had discriminated against minority-owned subcontractors. See Id., at 42 (statement of Councilperson Kemp) ("[The public witnesses] indicated that the minority contractors were just not available. There wasn't a one that gave any indication that a minority contractor would not have an opportunity, if he were available").

Opponents of the ordinance questioned both its wisdom and its legality. They argued that a disparity between minorities in the population of Richmond and the number of prime contracts awarded to MBE's had little probative value in establishing discrimination in the construction industry. Id., at 30 (statement of Councilperson Wake). Representatives of various contractors' associations questioned whether there were enough MBE's in the Richmond area to satisfy the 30% set-aside requirement. Id., at 32 (statement of Mr. Beck); id., at 33 (statement of Mr. Singer); id., at 35-36 (statement of Mr. Murphy). Mr. Murphy noted that only 4.7% of all construction firms in the United States were minority owned and that 41% of these were located in California, New York, Illinois, Florida, and Hawaii. He predicted that the ordinance would thus lead to a windfall for the few minority firms in Richmond. Ibid. Councilperson Gillespie indicated his concern that many local labor jobs, held by both blacks and whites, would be lost because the ordinance put no geographic limit on the MBE's eligible for the 30% set-aside. Id., at 44. Some of the representatives of the local contractor's organizations indicated that they did not discriminate on the basis of race and were in fact actively seeking out minority members. Id., at 38 (statement of Mr. Shuman) ("The company I work for belonged to all these [contractors'] organizations. Nobody that I know of, black, Puerto Rican or any minority, has ever been turned down. They're actually sought after to join, to become part of us"); see also id., at 20 (statement of Mr. Watts). Councilperson Gillespie expressed his concern about the legality of the Plan, and asked that a vote be delayed pending consultation with outside counsel. His suggestion was rejected, and the ordinance was enacted by a vote of six to two, with Councilperson Gillespie abstaining. Id., at 49.

On September 6, 1983, the city of Richmond issued an invitation to bid on a project for the provision and installation of certain plumbing fixtures at the city jail. On September 30, 1983, Eugene Bonn, the regional manager of J.A. Croson Company (Croson), a mechanical plumbing and heating contractor, received the bid forms. The project involved the installation of stainless steel urinals and water closets in the city jail. Products of either of two manufacturers were specified, Acorn Engineering Company (Acorn) or Bradley Manufacturing Company (Bradley). Bonn determined that to meet the 30% set-aside requirement, a minority contractor would have to supply the fixtures. The provision of the fixtures amounted to 75% of the total contract price.

On September 30, Bonn contacted five or six MBE's that were potential suppliers of the fixtures, after contacting three local and state agencies that maintained lists of MBE's. No MBE expressed interest in the project or tendered a quote. On October 12, 1983, the day the bids were due, Bonn again telephoned a group of MBE's. This time, Melvin Brown, president of Continental Metal Hose (Continental), a local MBE, indicated that he wished to participate in the project. Brown subsequently contacted two sources of the specified fixtures in order to obtain a price quotation. One supplier, Ferguson Plumbing Supply, which is not an MBE, had already made a quotation directly to Croson, and refused to quote the same fixtures to Continental. Brown also contacted an agent of Bradley, one of the two manufacturers of the specified fixtures. The agent was not familiar with Brown or Continental, and indicated that a credit check was required which would take at least 30 days to complete.

On October 13, 1983, the sealed bids were opened. Croson turned out to be the only bidder, with a bid of $126,530. Brown and Bonn met personally at the bid opening, and Brown informed Bonn that his difficulty in obtaining credit approval had hindered his submission of a bid.

By October 19, 1983, Croson had still not received a bid from Continental. On that date it submitted a request for a waiver of the 30% set-aside. Croson's waiver request indicated that Continental was "unqualified" and that the other MBE's contacted had been unresponsive or unable to quote. Upon learning of Croson's waiver request, Brown contacted an agent of Acorn, the other fixture manufacturer specified by the city. Based upon his discussions with Acorn, Brown subsequently submitted a bid on the fixtures to Croson. Continental's bid was $6,183.29 higher than the price Croson had included for the fixtures in its bid to the city. This constituted a 7% increase over the market price for the fixtures. With added bonding and insurance, using Continental would have raised the cost of the project by $7,663.16. On the same day that Brown contacted Acorn, he also called city procurement officials and told them that Continental, an MBE, could supply the fixtures specified in the city jail contract. On November 2, 1983, the city denied Croson's waiver request, indicating that Croson had 10 days to submit an MBE Utilization Commitment Form, and warned that failure to do so could result in its bid being considered unresponsive.

Croson wrote the city on November 8, 1983. In the letter, Bonn indicated that Continental was not an authorized supplier for either Acorn or Bradley fixtures. He also noted that Acorn's quotation to Brown was subject to credit approval and in any case was substantially higher than any other quotation Croson had received. Finally, Bonn noted that Continental's bid had been submitted some 21 days after the prime bids were due. In a second letter, Croson laid out the additional costs that using Continental to supply the fixtures would entail, and asked that it be allowed to raise the overall contract price accordingly. The city denied both Croson's request for a waiver and its suggestion that the contract price be raised. The city informed Croson that it had decided to rebid the project. On December 9, 1983, counsel for Croson wrote the city asking for a review of the waiver denial. The city's attorney responded that the city had elected to rebid the project, and that there is no appeal of such a decision. Shortly thereafter Croson brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, arguing that the Richmond ordinance was unconstitutional on its face and as applied in this case.

The District Court upheld the Plan in all respects. See Supplemental App. to Juris.Statement 112-232 (Supp.App.). In its original opinion, a divided panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. Croson I, 779 F.2d 181 (1985). Both courts applied a test derived from "the common concerns articulated by the various Supreme Court opinions" in Fullilove v. Klutznick, 448 U.S. 448, 100 S.Ct. 2758, 65 L.Ed.2d 902 (1980), and University of California Regents v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265, 98 S.Ct. 2733, 57 L.Ed.2d 750 (1978). See Croson I, supra, at 188. Relying on the great deference which this Court accorded Congress' findings of past discrimination in Fullilove, the panel majority indicated its view that the same standard should be applied to the Richmond City Council, stating:

Unlike the review we make of a lower court decision, our task is not to determine if there was sufficient evidence to sustain the council majority's position in any traditional sense of weighing the evidence. Rather, it is to determine whether 'the legislative history... demonstrates that [the council] reasonably concluded that... private and governmental discrimination had contributed to the negligible percentage of public contracts awarded minority contractors.'" 779 F.2d, at 190 (quoting Fullilove, supra, 448 U.S., at 503, 100 S.Ct., at 2787 (Powell, J., concurring)).

The majority found that national findings of discrimination in the construction industry, when considered in conjunction with the statistical study concerning the awarding of prime contracts in Richmond, rendered the city council's conclusion that low minority participation in city contracts was due to past discrimination "reasonable." Croson I, 779 F.2d, at 190, and n. 12. The panel opinion then turned to the second part of its "synthesized Fullilove" test, examining whether the racial quota was "narrowly tailored to the legislative goals of the Plan." Id., at 190. First, the court upheld the 30% set-aside figure, by comparing it not to the number of MBE's in Richmond, but rather to the percentage of minority persons in the city's population. Id., at 191. The panel held that to remedy the effects of past discrimination, "a set-aside program for a period of five years obviously must require more than a 0.67% set-aside to encourage minorities to enter the contracting industry and to allow existing minority contractors to grow." Ibid. Thus, in the court's view the 30% figure was "reasonable in light of the undisputed fact that minorities constitute 50% of the population of Richmond." Ibid.

Croson sought certiorari from this Court. We granted the writ, vacated the opinion of the Court of Appeals, and remanded the case for further consideration in light of our intervening decision in Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education, 476 U.S. 267, 106 S.Ct. 1842, 90 L.Ed.2d 260 (1986). See 478 U.S. 1016, 106 S.Ct. 3327, 92 L.Ed.2d 733 (1986).

On remand, a divided panel of the Court of Appeals struck down the Richmond set-aside program as violating both prongs of strict scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. J.A. Croson Co. v. Richmond, 822 F.2d 1355 (CA4 1987) (Croson II). The majority found that the "core" of this Court's holding in Wygant was that, "[t]o show that a plan is justified by a compelling governmental interest, a municipality that wishes to employ a racial preference cannot rest on broad-brush assumptions of historical discrimination." 822 F.2d, at 1357. As the court read this requirement, "[f]indings of societal discrimination will not suffice; the findings must concern 'prior discrimination by the government unit involved. ' " Id., at 1358 (quoting Wygant, supra, 476 U.S., at 274, 106 S.Ct., at 1847) (emphasis in original).

In this case, the debate at the city council meeting "revealed no record of prior discrimination by the city in awarding public contracts...." Croson II, supra, at 1358. Moreover, the statistics comparing the minority population of Richmond to the percentage of prime contracts awarded to minority firms had little or no probative value in establishing prior discrimination in the relevant market, and actually suggested "more of a political than a remedial basis for the racial preference." 822 F.2d, at 1359. The court concluded that, "[i]f this plan is supported by a compelling governmental interest, so is every other plan that has been enacted in the past or that will be enacted in the future." Id., at 1360.

The Court of Appeals went on to hold that even if the city had demonstrated a compelling interest in the use of a race-based quota, the 30% set-aside was not narrowly tailored to accomplish a remedial purpose. The court found that the 30% figure was "chosen arbitrarily" and was not tied to the number of minority subcontractors in Richmond or to any other relevant number. Ibid. The dissenting judge argued that the majority had "misconstrue[d] and misapplie[d]" our decision in Wygant. 822 F.2d, at 1362. We noted probable jurisdiction of the city's appeal, 484 U.S. 1058, 108 S.Ct. 1010, 98 L.Ed.2d 976 (1988), and we now affirm the judgment.


The parties and their supporting amici fight an initial battle over the scope of the city's power to adopt legislation designed to address the effects of past discrimination. Relying on our decision in Wygant, appellee argues that the city must limit any race-based remedial efforts to eradicating the effects of its own prior discrimination. This is essentially the position taken by the Court of Appeals below. Appellant argues that our decision in Fullilove is controlling, and that as a result the city of Richmond enjoys sweeping legislative power to define and attack the effects of prior discrimination in its local construction industry. We find that neither of these two rather stark alternatives can withstand analysis.

In Fullilove, we upheld the minority set-aside contained in § 103(f)(2) of the Public Works Employment Act of 1977, Pub.L. 95-28, 91 Stat. 116, 42 U.S.C. § 6701 et seq. (Act) against a challenge based on the equal protection component of the Due Process Clause. The Act authorized a $4 billion appropriation for federal grants to state and local governments for use in public works projects. The primary purpose of the Act was to give the national economy a quick boost in a recessionary period; funds had to be committed to state or local grantees by September 30, 1977. The Act also contained the following requirement: " 'Except to the extent the Secretary determines otherwise, no grant shall be made under this Act... unless the applicant gives satisfactory assurance to the Secretary that at least 10 per centum of the amount of each grant shall be expended for minority business enterprises.' " Fullilove, 448 U.S., at 454, 100 S.Ct., at 2762 (quoting 91 Stat. 116, 42 U.S.C. § 6705(f)(2)). MBE's were defined as businesses effectively controlled by "citizens of the United States who are Negroes, Spanish-speaking, Orientals, Indians, Eskimos, and Aleuts." Ibid.

The principal opinion in Fullilove, written by Chief Justice Burger, did not employ "strict scrutiny" or any other traditional standard of equal protection review. The Chief Justice noted at the outset that although racial classifications call for close examination, the Court was at the same time "bound to approach [its] task with appropriate deference to the Congress, a co-equal branch charged by the Constitution with the power to 'provide for the... general Welfare of the United States' and 'to enforce by appropriate legislation,' the equal protection guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment." 448 U.S., at 472, 100 S.Ct., at 2771. The principal opinion asked two questions: first, were the objectives of the legislation within the power of Congress? Second, was the limited use of racial and ethnic criteria a permissible means for Congress to carry out its objectives within the constraints of the Due Process Clause? Id., at 473, 100 S.Ct., at 2772.

On the issue of congressional power, the Chief Justice found that Congress' commerce power was sufficiently broad to allow it to reach the practices of prime contractors on federally funded local construction projects. Id., at 475-476, 100 S.Ct., at 2773-2774. Congress could mandate state and local government compliance with the set-aside program under its § 5 power to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment. Id., at 476 100 S.Ct., at 2773 (citing Katzenbach v. Morgan, 384 U.S. 641, 651, 86 S.Ct. 1717, 1723, 16 L.Ed.2d 828 (1966)).

The Chief Justice next turned to the constraints on Congress' power to employ race-conscious remedial relief. His opinion stressed two factors in upholding the MBE set-aside. First was the unique remedial powers of Congress under § 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment:

Here we deal... not with the limited remedial powers of a federal court, for example, but with the broad remedial powers of Congress. It is fundamental that in no organ of government, state or federal, does there repose a more comprehensive remedial power than in the Congress, expressly charged by the Constitution with competence and authority to enforce equal protection guarantees." 448 U.S., at 483, 100 S.Ct., at 2777 (principal opinion) (emphasis added).

Because of these unique powers, the Chief Justice concluded that "Congress not only may induce voluntary action to assure compliance with existing federal statutory or constitutional antidiscrimination provisions, but also, where Congress has authority to declare certain conduct unlawful, it may, as here, authorize and induce state action to avoid such conduct." Id., at 483-484, 100 S.Ct., at 2777 (emphasis added).

In reviewing the legislative history behind the Act, the principal opinion focused on the evidence before Congress that a nationwide history of past discrimination had reduced minority participation in federal construction grants. Id., at 458-467, 100 S.Ct., at 2764-2769. The Chief Justice also noted that Congress drew on its experience under § 8(a) of the Small Business Act of 1953, which had extended aid to minority businesses. Id., at 463-467, 100 S.Ct., at 2767-2769. The Chief Justice concluded that "Congress had abundant historical basis from which it could conclude that traditional procurement practices, when applied to minority businesses, could perpetuate the effects of prior discrimination." Id., at 478, 100 S.Ct., at 2775.

The second factor emphasized by the principal opinion in Fullilove was the flexible nature of the 10% set-aside. Two "congressional assumptions" underlay the MBE program: first, that the effects of past discrimination had impaired the competitive position of minority businesses, and second, that "adjustment for the effects of past discrimination" would assure that at least 10% of the funds from the federal grant program would flow to minority businesses. The Chief Justice noted that both of these "assumptions" could be "rebutted" by a grantee seeking a waiver of the 10% requirement. Id., at 487-488, 100 S.Ct., at 2779-2780. Thus a waiver could be sought where minority businesses were not available to fill the 10% requirement or, more importantly, where an MBE attempted "to exploit the remedial aspects of the program by charging an unreasonable price, i.e., a price not attributable to the present effects of prior discrimination." Id., at 488, 100 S.Ct., at 2780. The Chief Justice indicated that without this fine tuning to remedial purpose, the statute would not have "pass[ed] muster." Id., at 487, 100 S.Ct., at 2779.

In his concurring opinion, Justice Powell relied on the legislative history adduced by the principal opinion in finding that "Congress reasonably concluded that private and governmental discrimination had contributed to the negligible percentage of public contracts awarded minority contractors." Id., at 503, 100 S.Ct., at 2787. Justice Powell also found that the means chosen by Congress, particularly in light of the flexible waiver provisions, were "reasonably necessary" to address the problem identified. Id., at 514-515, 100 S.Ct., at 2793-2794. Justice Powell made it clear that other governmental entities might have to show more than Congress before undertaking race-conscious measures: "The degree of specificity required in the findings of discrimination and the breadth of discretion in the choice of remedies may vary with the nature and authority of the governmental body." Id., at 515-516, n. 14, 100 S.Ct., at 2794, n. 14.

Appellant and its supporting amici rely heavily on Fullilove for the proposition that a city council, like Congress, need not make specific findings of discrimination to engage in race-conscious relief. Thus, appellant argues "[i]t would be a perversion of federalism to hold that the federal government has a compelling interest in remedying the effects of racial discrimination in its own public works program, but a city government does not." Brief for Appellant 32 (footnote omitted).

What appellant ignores is that Congress, unlike any State or political subdivision, has a specific constitutional mandate to enforce the dictates of the Fourteenth Amendment. The power to "enforce" may at times also include the power to define situations which Congress determines threaten principles of equality and to adopt prophylactic rules to deal with those situations. See Katzenbach v. Morgan, 384 U.S., at 651, 86 S.Ct., at 1723 ("Correctly viewed, § 5 is a positive grant of legislative power authorizing Congress to exercise its discretion in determining whether and what legislation is needed to secure the guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment"). See also South Carolina v. Katzenbach, 383 U.S. 301, 326, 86 S.Ct. 803, 817, 15 L.Ed.2d 769 (1966) (similar interpretation of congressional power under § 2 of the Fifteenth Amendment). The Civil War Amendments themselves worked a dramatic change in the balance between congressional and state power over matters of race. Speaking of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments in Ex parte Virginia, 100 U.S. 339, 345, 25 L.Ed. 676 (1880), the Court stated: "They were intended to be, what they really are, limitations of the powers of the States and enlargements of the power of Congress."

That Congress may identify and redress the effects of society-wide discrimination does not mean that, a fortiori, the States and their political subdivisions are free to decide that such remedies are appropriate. Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment is an explicit constraint on state power, and the States must undertake any remedial efforts in accordance with that provision. To hold otherwise would be to cede control over the content of the Equal Protection Clause to the 50 state legislatures and their myriad political subdivisions. The mere recitation of a benign or compensatory purpose for the use of a racial classification would essentially entitle the States to exercise the full power of Congress under § 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment and insulate any racial classification from judicial scrutiny under § 1. We believe that such a result would be contrary to the intentions of the Framers of the Fourteenth Amendment, who desired to place clear limits on the States' use of race as a criterion for legislative action, and to have the federal courts enforce those limitations. See Associated General Contractors of Cal. v. City and Cty. of San Francisco, 813 F.2d, at 929 (Kozinski, J.) ("The city is not just like the federal government with regard to the findings it must make to justify race-conscious remedial action"); see also Days, Fullilove, 96 Yale L.J. 453, 474 (1987) (hereinafter Days) (" Fullilove clearly focused on the constitutionality of a congressionally mandated set-aside program") (emphasis in original); Bohrer, Bakke, Weber, and Fullilove: Benign Discrimination and Congressional Power to Enforce the Fourteenth Amendment, 56 Ind. L.J. 473, 512-513 (1981) ("Congress may authorize, pursuant to section 5, state action that would be foreclosed to the states acting alone").

We do not, as Justice MARSHALL's dissent suggests, see post, at 557-560, find in § 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment some form of federal pre-emption in matters of race. We simply note what should be apparent to all—§ 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment stemmed from a distrust of state legislative enactments based on race; § 5 is, as the dissent notes, " 'a positive grant of legislative power' " to Congress. Post, at 560, quoting Katzenbach v. Morgan, supra, 384 U.S., at 651, 86 S.Ct., at 1723 (emphasis in dissent). Thus, our treatment of an exercise of congressional power in Fullilove cannot be dispositive here. In the Slaughter-House Cases, 16 Wall. 36, 21 L.Ed. 394 (1873), cited by the dissent, post, at 560, the Court noted that the Civil War Amendments granted "additional powers to the Federal government," and laid "additional restraints upon those of the States." 16 Wall., at 68.

It would seem equally clear, however, that a state or local subdivision (if delegated the authority from the State) has the authority to eradicate the effects of private discrimination within its own legislative jurisdiction. 2 This authority must, of course, be exercised within the constraints of § 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment. Our decision in Wygant is not to the contrary. Wygant addressed the constitutionality of the use of racial quotas by local school authorities pursuant to an agreement reached with the local teachers' union. It was in the context of addressing the school board's power to adopt a race-based layoff program affecting its own work force that the Wygant plurality indicated that the Equal Protection Clause required "some showing of prior discrimination by the governmental unit involved." Wygant, 476 U.S., at 274, 106 S.Ct., at 1847. As a matter of state law, the city of Richmond has legislative authority over its procurement policies, and can use its spending powers to remedy private discrimination, if it identifies that discrimination with the particularity required by the Fourteenth Amendment. To this extent, on the question of the city's competence, the Court of Appeals erred in following Wygant by rote in a case involving a state entity which has state-law authority to address discriminatory practices within local commerce under its jurisdiction.

Thus, if the city could show that it had essentially become a "passive participant" in a system of racial exclusion practiced by elements of the local construction industry, we think it clear that the city could take affirmative steps to dismantle such a system. It is beyond dispute that any public entity, state or federal, has a compelling interest in assuring that public dollars, drawn from the tax contributions of all citizens, do not serve to finance the evil of private prejudice. Cf. Norwood v. Harrison, 413 U.S. 455, 465, 93 S.Ct. 2804, 2810, 37 L.Ed.2d 723 (1973) ("Racial discrimination in state-operated schools is barred by the Constitution and [i]t is also axiomatic that a state may not induce, encourage or promote private persons to accomplish what it is constitutionally forbidden to accomplish") (citation and internal quotations omitted).



The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment provides that "[n]o State shall... deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." (Emphasis added.) As this Court has noted in the past, the "rights created by the first section of the Fourteenth Amendment are, by its terms, guaranteed to the individual. The rights established are personal rights." Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 U.S. 1, 22, 68 S.Ct. 836, 846, 92 L.Ed. 1161 (1948). The Richmond Plan denies certain citizens the opportunity to compete for a fixed percentage of public contracts based solely upon their race. To whatever racial group these citizens belong, their "personal rights" to be treated with equal dignity and respect are implicated by a rigid rule erecting race as the sole criterion in an aspect of public decisionmaking.

Absent searching judicial inquiry into the justification for such race-based measures, there is simply no way of determining what classifications are "benign" or "remedial" and what classifications are in fact motivated by illegitimate notions of racial inferiority or simple racial politics. Indeed, the purpose of strict scrutiny is to "smoke out" illegitimate uses of race by assuring that the legislative body is pursuing a goal important enough to warrant use of a highly suspect tool. The test also ensures that the means chosen "fit" this compelling goal so closely that there is little or no possibility that the motive for the classification was illegitimate racial prejudice or stereotype.

Classifications based on race carry a danger of stigmatic harm. Unless they are strictly reserved for remedial settings, they may in fact promote notions of racial inferiority and lead to a politics of racial hostility. See University of California Regents v. Bakke, 438 U.S., at 298, 98 S.Ct., at 2752 (opinion of Powell, J.) ("[P]referential programs may only reinforce common stereotypes holding that certain groups are unable to achieve success without special protection based on a factor having no relation to individual worth"). We thus reaffirm the view expressed by the plurality in Wygant that the standard of review under the Equal Protection Clause is not dependent on the race of those burdened or benefited by a particular classification. Wygant, 476 U.S., at 279-280, 106 S.Ct., at 1849-1850; id., at 285-286, 106 S.Ct., at 1852-1853 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment). See also San Antonio Independent School Dist. v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1, 105, 93 S.Ct. 1278, 1333, 36 L.Ed.2d 16 (1973) (MARSHALL, J., dissenting) ("The highly suspect nature of classifications based on race, nationality, or alienage is well established") (footnotes omitted).

Our continued adherence to the standard of review employed in Wygant does not, as Justice MARSHALL's dissent suggests, see post, at 552, indicate that we view "racial discrimination as largely a phenomenon of the past" or that "government bodies need no longer preoccupy themselves with rectifying racial injustice." As we indicate, see infra, at 509-510, States and their local subdivisions have many legislative weapons at their disposal both to punish and prevent present discrimination and to remove arbitrary barriers to minority advancement. Rather, our interpretation of § 1 stems from our agreement with the view expressed by Justice Powell in Bakke that "[t]he guarantee of equal protection cannot mean one thing when applied to one individual and something else when applied to a person of another color." Bakke, supra, 438 U.S., at 289-290, 98 S.Ct., at 2748.

Under the standard proposed by Justice MARSHALL's dissent, "race-conscious classifications designed to further remedial goals," post, at 552, are forthwith subject to a relaxed standard of review. How the dissent arrives at the legal conclusion that a racial classification is "designed to further remedial goals," without first engaging in an examination of the factual basis for its enactment and the nexus between its scope and that factual basis, we are not told. However, once the "remedial" conclusion is reached, the dissent's standard is singularly deferential, and bears little resemblance to the close examination of legislative purpose we have engaged in when reviewing classifications based either on race or gender. See Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld, 420 U.S. 636, 648, 95 S.Ct. 1225, 1233, 43 L.Ed.2d 514 (1975) ("[T]he mere recitation of a benign, compensatory purpose is not an automatic shield which protects against any inquiry into the actual purposes underlying a statutory scheme"). The dissent's watered-down version of equal protection review effectively assures that race will always be relevant in American life, and that the "ultimate goal" of "eliminat[ing] entirely from governmental decisionmaking such irrelevant factors as a human being's race," Wygant, supra, 476 U.S., at 320, 106 S.Ct., at 1871 (STEVENS, J., dissenting) (footnote omitted), will never be achieved.

Even were we to accept a reading of the guarantee of equal protection under which the level of scrutiny varies according to the ability of different groups to defend their interests in the representative process, heightened scrutiny would still be appropriate in the circumstances of this case. One of the central arguments for applying a less exacting standard to "benign" racial classifications is that such measures essentially involve a choice made by dominant racial groups to disadvantage themselves. If one aspect of the judiciary's role under the Equal Protection Clause is to protect "discrete and insular minorities" from majoritarian prejudice or indifference, see United States v. Carolene Products Co., 304 U.S. 144, 153, n. 4, 58 S.Ct. 778, 784, n. 4, 82 L.Ed. 1234 (1938), some maintain that these concerns are not implicated when the "white majority" places burdens upon itself. See J. Ely, Democracy and Distrust 170 (1980).

In this case, blacks constitute approximately 50% of the population of the city of Richmond. Five of the nine seats on the city council are held by blacks. The concern that a political majority will more easily act to the disadvantage of a minority based on unwarranted assumptions or incomplete facts would seem to militate for, not against, the application of heightened judicial scrutiny in this case. See Ely, The Constitutionality of Reverse Racial Discrimination, 41 U.Chi.L.Rev. 723, 739, n. 58 (1974) ("Of course it works both ways: a law that favors Blacks over Whites would be suspect if it were enacted by a predominantly Black legislature").

In Bakke, supra, the Court confronted a racial quota employed by the University of California at Davis Medical School. Under the plan, 16 out of 100 seats in each entering class at the school were reserved exclusively for certain minority groups. Id., 438 U.S., at 288-289, 98 S.Ct., at 2747-2748. Among the justifications offered in support of the plan were the desire to "reduc[e] the historic deficit of traditionally disfavored minorities in medical school and the medical profession" and the need to "counte[r] the effects of societal discrimination." Id., at 306, 98 S.Ct., at 2756 (citations omitted). Five Members of the Court determined that none of these interests could justify a plan that completely eliminated nonminorities from consideration for a specified percentage of opportunities. Id., at 271-272, 98 S.Ct., at 2738 (Powell, J.) (addressing constitutionality of Davis plan); id., at 408, 98 S.Ct., at 2808 (STEVENS, J., joined by Burger, C.J. and Stewart and REHNQUIST, JJ. concurring in judgment in part and dissenting in part) (addressing only legality of Davis admissions plan under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964).

Justice Powell's opinion applied heightened scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause to the racial classification at issue. His opinion decisively rejected the first justification for the racially segregated admissions plan. The desire to have more black medical students or doctors, standing alone, was not merely insufficiently compelling to justify a racial classification, it was "discrimination for its own sake," forbidden by the Constitution. Id., at 307, 98 S.Ct., at 2757. Nor could the second concern, the history of discrimination in society at large, justify a racial quota in medical school admissions. Justice Powell contrasted the "focused" goal of remedying "wrongs worked by specific instances of racial discrimination" with "the remedying of the effects of 'societal discrimination,' an amorphous concept of injury that may be ageless in its reach into the past." Ibid. He indicated that for the governmental interest in remedying past discrimination to be triggered "judicial, legislative, or administrative findings of constitutional or statutory violations" must be made. Ibid. Only then does the government have a compelling interest in favoring one race over another. Id., at 308-309, 98 S.Ct., at 2757-2758.

In Wygant, 476 U.S. 267, 106 S.Ct. 1842, 90 L.Ed.2d 260 (1986), four Members of the Court applied heightened scrutiny to a race-based system of employee layoffs. Justice Powell, writing for the plurality, again drew the distinction between "societal discrimination" which is an inadequate basis for race-conscious classifications, and the type of identified discrimination that can support and define the scope of race-based relief. The challenged classification in that case tied the layoff of minority teachers to the percentage of minority students enrolled in the school district. The lower courts had upheld the scheme, based on the theory that minority students were in need of "role models" to alleviate the effects of prior discrimination in society. This Court reversed, with a plurality of four Justices reiterating the view expressed by Justice Powell in Bakke that "[s]ocietal discrimination, without more, is too amorphous a basis for imposing a racially classified remedy." Wygant, supra, at 276, 106 S.Ct., at 1848.

The role model theory employed by the lower courts failed for two reasons. First, the statistical disparity between students and teachers had no probative value in demonstrating the kind of prior discrimination in hiring or promotion that would justify race-based relief. 476 U.S., at 276, 106 S.Ct., at 1848; see also id., at 294, 106 S.Ct., at 1857 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment) ("The disparity between the percentage of minorities on the teaching staff and the percentage of minorities in the student body is not probative of employment discrimination"). Second, because the role model theory had no relation to some basis for believing a constitutional or statutory violation had occurred, it could be used to "justify" race-based decisionmaking essentially limitless in scope and duration. Id., at 276, 106 S.Ct., at 1848 (plurality opinion) ("In the absence of particularized findings, a court could uphold remedies that are ageless in their reach into the past, and timeless in their ability to affect the future").


We think it clear that the factual predicate offered in support of the Richmond Plan suffers from the same two defects identified as fatal in Wygant. The District Court found the city council's "findings sufficient to ensure that, in adopting the Plan, it was remedying the present effects of past discrimination in the construction industry. " Supp.App. 163 (emphasis added). Like the "role model" theory employed in Wygant, a generalized assertion that there has been past discrimination in an entire industry provides no guidance for a legislative body to determine the precise scope of the injury it seeks to remedy. It "has no logical stopping point." Wygant, supra, at 275, 106 S.Ct., at 1847 (plurality opinion). "Relief" for such an ill-defined wrong could extend until the percentage of public contracts awarded to MBE's in Richmond mirrored the percentage of minorities in the population as a whole.

Appellant argues that it is attempting to remedy various forms of past discrimination that are alleged to be responsible for the small number of minority businesses in the local contracting industry. Among these the city cites the exclusion of blacks from skilled construction trade unions and training programs. This past discrimination has prevented them "from following the traditional path from laborer to entrepreneur." Brief for Appellant 23-24. The city also lists a host of nonracial factors which would seem to face a member of any racial group attempting to establish a new business enterprise, such as deficiencies in working capital, inability to meet bonding requirements, unfamiliarity with bidding procedures, and disability caused by an inadequate track record. Id., at 25-26, and n. 41.

While there is no doubt that the sorry history of both private and public discrimination in this country has contributed to a lack of opportunities for black entrepreneurs, this observation, standing alone, cannot justify a rigid racial quota in the awarding of public contracts in Richmond, Virginia. Like the claim that discrimination in primary and secondary schooling justifies a rigid racial preference in medical school admissions, an amorphous claim that there has been past discrimination in a particular industry cannot justify the use of an unyielding racial quota.

It is sheer speculation how many minority firms there would be in Richmond absent past societal discrimination, just as it was sheer speculation how many minority medical students would have been admitted to the medical school at Davis absent past discrimination in educational opportunities. Defining these sorts of injuries as "identified discrimination" would give local governments license to create a patchwork of racial preferences based on statistical generalizations about any particular field of endeavor.

These defects are readily apparent in this case. The 30% quota cannot in any realistic sense be tied to any injury suffered by anyone. The District Court relied upon five predicate "facts" in reaching its conclusion that there was an adequate basis for the 30% quota: (1) the ordinance declares itself to be remedial; (2) several proponents of the measure stated their views that there had been past discrimination in the construction industry; (3) minority businesses received 0.67% of prime contracts from the city while minorities constituted 50% of the city's population; (4) there were very few minority contractors in local and state contractors' associations; and (5) in 1977, Congress made a determination that the effects of past discrimination had stifled minority participation in the construction industry nationally. Supp.App. 163-167.

None of these "findings," singly or together, provide the city of Richmond with a "strong basis in evidence for its conclusion that remedial action was necessary." Wygant, 476 U.S., at 277, 106 S.Ct., at 1849 (plurality opinion). There is nothing approaching a prima facie case of a constitutional or statutory violation by anyone in the Richmond construction industry. Id., at 274-275, 106 S.Ct., at 1846-1847; see also id., at 293, 106 S.Ct., at 1856 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring).

The District Court accorded great weight to the fact that the city council designated the Plan as "remedial." But the mere recitation of a "benign" or legitimate purpose for a racial classification is entitled to little or no weight. See Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld, 420 U.S., at 648, n. 16, 95 S.Ct., at 1233, n. 16 ("This Court need not in equal protection cases accept at face value assertions of legislative purposes, when an examination of the legislative scheme and its history demonstrates that the asserted purpose could not have been a goal of the legislation"). Racial classifications are suspect, and that means that simple legislative assurances of good intention cannot suffice.

The District Court also relied on the highly conclusionary statement of a proponent of the Plan that there was racial discrimination in the construction industry "in this area, and the State, and around the nation." App. 41 (statement of Councilperson Marsh). It also noted that the city manager had related his view that racial discrimination still plagued the construction industry in his home city of Pittsburgh. Id., at 42 (statement of Mr. Deese). These statements are of little probative value in establishing identified discrimination in the Richmond construction industry. The factfinding process of legislative bodies is generally entitled to a presumption of regularity and deferential review by the judiciary. See Williamson v. Lee Optical of Oklahoma, Inc., 348 U.S. 483, 488-489, 75 S.Ct. 461, 464-465, 99 L.Ed. 563 (1955). But when a legislative body chooses to employ a suspect classification, it cannot rest upon a generalized assertion as to the classification's relevance to its goals. See McLaughlin v. Florida, 379 U.S. 184, 190-192, 85 S.Ct. 283, 287-289, 13 L.Ed.2d 222 (1964). A governmental actor cannot render race a legitimate proxy for a particular condition merely by declaring that the condition exists. See id., at 193, 85 S.Ct., at 289; Wygant, supra, 476 U.S., at 277, 106 S.Ct., at 1848. The history of racial classifications in this country suggests that blind judicial deference to legislative or executive pronouncements of necessity has no place in equal protection analysis. See Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214, 235-240, 65 S.Ct. 193, 202-205, 89 L.Ed. 194 (1944) (Murphy, J., dissenting).

Reliance on the disparity between the number of prime contracts awarded to minority firms and the minority population of the city of Richmond is similarly misplaced. There is no doubt that "[w]here gross statistical disparities can be shown, they alone in a proper case may constitute prima facie proof of a pattern or practice of discrimination" under Title VII. Hazelwood School Dist. v. United States, 433 U.S. 299, 307-308, 97 S.Ct. 2736, 2741, 53 L.Ed.2d 768 (1977). But it is equally clear that "[w]hen special qualifications are required to fill particular jobs, comparisons to the general population (rather than to the smaller group of individuals who possess the necessary qualifications) may have little probative value." Id., at 308, n. 13, 97 S.Ct., at 2742, n. 13. See also Mayor of Philadelphia v. Educational Equality League, 415 U.S. 605, 620, 94 S.Ct. 1323, 1333, 39 L.Ed.2d 630 (1974) ("[T]his is not a case in which it can be assumed that all citizens are fungible for purposes of determining whether members of a particular class have been unlawfully excluded").

In the employment context, we have recognized that for certain entry level positions or positions requiring minimal training, statistical comparisons of the racial composition of an employer's work force to the racial composition of the relevant population may be probative of a pattern of discrimination. See Teamsters v. United States, 431 U.S. 324, 337-338, 97 S.Ct. 1843, 1855-1856, 52 L.Ed.2d 396 (1977) (statistical comparison between minority truck-drivers and relevant population probative of discriminatory exclusion). But where special qualifications are necessary, the relevant statistical pool for purposes of demonstrating discriminatory exclusion must be the number of minorities qualified to undertake the particular task. See Hazelwood, supra, 433 U.S., at 308, 97 S.Ct., at 2741; Johnson v. Transportation Agency, Santa Clara County, 480 U.S. 616, 651-652, 107 S.Ct. 1442, 1462, 94 L.Ed.2d 615 (1987) (O'CONNOR, J., concurring in judgment).

In this case, the city does not even know how many MBE's in the relevant market are qualified to undertake prime or subcontracting work in public construction projects. Cf. Ohio Contractors Assn. v. Keip, 713 F.2d, at 171 (relying on percentage of minority businesses in the State compared to percentage of state purchasing contracts awarded to minority firms in upholding set-aside). Nor does the city know what percentage of total city construction dollars minority firms now receive as subcontractors on prime contracts let by the city.

To a large extent, the set-aside of subcontracting dollars seems to rest on the unsupported assumption that white prime contractors simply will not hire minority firms. See Associated General Contractors of Cal. v. City and Cty. of San Francisco, 813 F.2d, at 933 ("There is no finding—and we decline to assume—that male caucasian contractors will award contracts only to other male caucasians"). 3 Indeed, there is evidence in this record that overall minority participation in city contracts in Richmond is 7 to 8%, and that minority contractor participation in Community Block Development Grant construction projects is 17 to 22%. App. 16 (statement of Mr. Deese, City Manager). Without any information on minority participation in subcontracting, it is quite simply impossible to evaluate overall minority representation in the city's construction expenditures.

The city and the District Court also relied on evidence that MBE membership in local contractors' associations was extremely low. Again, standing alone this evidence is not probative of any discrimination in the local construction industry. There are numerous explanations for this dearth of minority participation, including past societal discrimination in education and economic opportunities as well as both black and white career and entrepreneurial choices. Blacks may be disproportionately attracted to industries other than construction. See The State of Small Business: A Report of the President 201 (1986) ("Relative to the distribution of all businesses, black-owned businesses are more than proportionally represented in the transportation industry, but considerably less than proportionally represented in the wholesale trade, manufacturing, and finance industries"). The mere fact that black membership in these trade organizations is low, standing alone, cannot establish a prima facie case of discrimination. Cf. Bazemore v. Friday, 478 U.S. 385, 407-408, 106 S.Ct. 3000, 3013, 92 L.Ed.2d 315 (1986) (mere existence of single race clubs in absence of evidence of exclusion by race cannot create a duty to integrate).

For low minority membership in these associations to be relevant, the city would have to link it to the number of local MBE's eligible for membership. If the statistical disparity between eligible MBE's and MBE membership were great enough, an inference of discriminatory exclusion could arise. In such a case, the city would have a compelling interest in preventing its tax dollars from assisting these organizations in maintaining a racially segregated construction market. See Norwood, 413 U.S., at 465, 93 S.Ct., at 2804; Ohio Contractors, supra, at 171 (upholding minority set-aside based in part on earlier District Court finding that "the state had become 'a joint participant' with private industry and certain craft unions in a pattern of racially discriminatory conduct which excluded black laborers from work on public construction contracts").

Finally, the city and the District Court relied on Congress' finding in connection with the set-aside approved in Fullilove that there had been nationwide discrimination in the construction industry. The probative value of these findings for demonstrating the existence of discrimination in Richmond is extremely limited. By its inclusion of a waiver procedure in the national program addressed in Fullilove, Congress explicitly recognized that the scope of the problem would vary from market area to market area. See Fullilove, 448 U.S., at 487, 100 S.Ct., at 2779 (noting that the presumption that minority firms are disadvantaged by past discrimination may be rebutted by grantees in individual situations).

Moreover, as noted above, Congress was exercising its powers under § 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment in making a finding that past discrimination would cause federal funds to be distributed in a manner which reinforced prior patterns of discrimination. While the States and their subdivisions may take remedial action when they possess evidence that their own spending practices are exacerbating a pattern of prior discrimination, they must identify that discrimination, public or private, with some specificity before they may use race-conscious relief. Congress has made national findings that there has been societal discrimination in a host of fields. If all a state or local government need do is find a congressional report on the subject to enact a set-aside program, the constraints of the Equal Protection Clause will, in effect, have been rendered a nullity. See Days 480-481 ("[I]t is essential that state and local agencies also establish the presence of discrimination in their own bailiwicks, based either upon their own fact-finding processes or upon determinations made by other competent institutions").

Justice MARSHALL apparently views the requirement that Richmond identify the discrimination it seeks to remedy in its own jurisdiction as a mere administrative headache, an "onerous documentary obligatio[n]." Post, at 548. We cannot agree. In this regard, we are in accord with Justice STEVENS' observation in Fullilove, that "[b]ecause racial characteristics so seldom provide a relevant basis for disparate treatment, and because classifications based on race are potentially so harmful to the entire body politic, it is especially important that the reasons for any such classification be clearly identified and unquestionably legitimate." Fullilove, supra, at 533-535, 100 S.Ct., at 2803-2804 (dissenting opinion) (footnotes omitted). The "evidence" relied upon by the dissent, the history of school desegregation in Richmond and numerous congressional reports, does little to define the scope of any injury to minority contractors in Richmond or the necessary remedy. The factors relied upon by the dissent could justify a preference of any size or duration.

Moreover, Justice MARSHALL's suggestion that findings of discrimination may be "shared" from jurisdiction to jurisdiction in the same manner as information concerning zoning and property values is unprecedented. See post, at 547, quoting Renton v. Playtime Theatres, Inc., 475 U.S. 41, 51-52, 106 S.Ct. 925, 931, 89 L.Ed.2d 29 (1986). We have never approved the extrapolation of discrimination in one jurisdiction from the experience of another. See Milliken v. Bradley, 418 U.S. 717, 746, 94 S.Ct. 3112, 3128, 41 L.Ed.2d 1069 (1974) ("Disparate treatment of white and Negro students occurred within the Detroit school system, and not elsewhere, and on this record the remedy must be limited to that system").

In sum, none of the evidence presented by the city points to any identified discrimination in the Richmond construction industry. We, therefore, hold that the city has failed to demonstrate a compelling interest in apportioning public contracting opportunities on the basis of race. To accept Richmond's claim that past societal discrimination alone can serve as the basis for rigid racial preferences would be to open the door to competing claims for "remedial relief" for every disadvantaged group. The dream of a Nation of equal citizens in a society where race is irrelevant to personal opportunity and achievement would be lost in a mosaic of shifting preferences based on inherently unmeasurable claims of past wrongs. "Courts would be asked to evaluate the extent of the prejudice and consequent harm suffered by various minority groups. Those whose societal injury is thought to exceed some arbitrary level of tolerability then would be entitled to preferential classifications...." Bakke, 438 U.S., at 296-297, 98 S.Ct., at 2751 (Powell, J.). We think such a result would be contrary to both the letter and spirit of a constitutional provision whose central command is equality.

The foregoing analysis applies only to the inclusion of blacks within the Richmond set-aside program. There is absolutely no evidence of past discrimination against Spanish-speaking, Oriental, Indian, Eskimo, or Aleut persons in any aspect of the Richmond construction industry. The District Court took judicial notice of the fact that the vast majority of "minority" persons in Richmond were black. Supp.App. 207. It may well be that Richmond has never had an Aleut or Eskimo citizen. The random inclusion of racial groups that, as a practical matter, may never have suffered from discrimination in the construction industry in Richmond suggests that perhaps the city's purpose was not in fact to remedy past discrimination.

If a 30% set-aside was "narrowly tailored" to compensate black contractors for past discrimination, one may legitimately ask why they are forced to share this "remedial relief" with an Aleut citizen who moves to Richmond tomorrow? The gross overinclusiveness of Richmond's racial preference strongly impugns the city's claim of remedial motivation. See Wygant, 476 U.S., at 284, n. 13, 106 S.Ct., at 1852, n. 13 (haphazard inclusion of racial groups "further illustrates the undifferentiated nature of the plan"); see also Days 482 ("Such programs leave one with the sense that the racial and ethnic groups favored by the set-aside were added without attention to whether their inclusion was justified by evidence of past discrimination").


As noted by the court below, it is almost impossible to assess whether the Richmond Plan is narrowly tailored to remedy prior discrimination since it is not linked to identified discrimination in any way. We limit ourselves to two observations in this regard.

First, there does not appear to have been any consideration of the use of race-neutral means to increase minority business participation in city contracting. See United States v. Paradise, 480 U.S. 149, 171, 107 S.Ct. 1053, 1066, 94 L.Ed.2d 203 (1987) ("In determining whether race-conscious remedies are appropriate, we look to several factors, including the efficacy of alternative remedies"). Many of the barriers to minority participation in the construction industry relied upon by the city to justify a racial classification appear to be race neutral. If MBE's disproportionately lack capital or cannot meet bonding requirements, a race-neutral program of city financing for small firms would, a fortiori, lead to greater minority participation. The principal opinion in Fullilove found that Congress had carefully examined and rejected race-neutral alternatives before enacting the MBE set-aside. See Fullilove, 448 U.S., at 463-467, 100 S.Ct., at 2767-2769; see also id., at 511, 100 S.Ct., at 2792 (Powell, J., concurring) ("[B]y the time Congress enacted [the MBE set-aside] in 1977, it knew that other remedies had failed to ameliorate the effects of racial discrimination in the construction industry"). There is no evidence in this record that the Richmond City Council has considered any alternatives to a race-based quota.

Second, the 30% quota cannot be said to be narrowly tailored to any goal, except perhaps outright racial balancing. It rests upon the "completely unrealistic" assumption that minorities will choose a particular trade in lockstep proportion to their representation in the local population. See Sheet Metal Workers v. EEOC, 478 U.S. 421, 494, 106 S.Ct. 3019, 3059, 92 L.Ed.2d 344 (1986) (O'CONNOR, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part) ("[I]t is completely unrealistic to assume that individuals of one race will gravitate with mathematical exactitude to each employer or union absent unlawful discrimination").

Since the city must already consider bids and waivers on a case-by-case basis, it is difficult to see the need for a rigid numerical quota. As noted above, the congressional scheme upheld in Fullilove allowed for a waiver of the set-aside provision where an MBE's higher price was not attributable to the effects of past discrimination. Based upon proper findings, such programs are less problematic from an equal protection standpoint because they treat all candidates individually, rather than making the color of an applicant's skin the sole relevant consideration. Unlike the program upheld in Fullilove, the Richmond Plan's waiver system focuses solely on the availability of MBE's; there is no inquiry into whether or not the particular MBE seeking a racial preference has suffered from the effects of past discrimination by the city or prime contractors.

Given the existence of an individualized procedure, the city's only interest in maintaining a quota system rather than investigating the need for remedial action in particular cases would seem to be simple administrative convenience. But the interest in avoiding the bureaucratic effort necessary to tailor remedial relief to those who truly have suffered the effects of prior discrimination cannot justify a rigid line drawn on the basis of a suspect classification. See Frontiero v. Richardson, 411 U.S. 677, 690, 93 S.Ct. 1764, 1772, 36 L.Ed.2d 583 (1973) (plurality opinion) ("[W]hen we enter the realm of 'strict judicial scrutiny,' there can be no doubt that 'administrative convenience' is not a shibboleth, the mere recitation of which dictates constitutionality"). Under Richmond's scheme, a successful black, Hispanic, or Oriental entrepreneur from anywhere in the country enjoys an absolute preference over other citizens based solely on their race. We think it obvious that such a program is not narrowly tailored to remedy the effects of prior discrimination.


Nothing we say today precludes a state or local entity from taking action to rectify the effects of identified discrimination within its jurisdiction. If the city of Richmond had evidence before it that nonminority contractors were systematically excluding minority businesses from subcontracting opportunities it could take action to end the discriminatory exclusion. Where there is a significant statistical disparity between the number of qualified minority contractors willing and able to perform a particular service and the number of such contractors actually engaged by the locality or the locality's prime contractors, an inference of discriminatory exclusion could arise. See Bazemore v. Friday, 478 U.S., at 398, 106 S.Ct., at 3008; Teamsters v. United States, 431 U.S., at 337-339, 97 S.Ct., at 1856. Under such circumstances, the city could act to dismantle the closed business system by taking appropriate measures against those who discriminate on the basis of race or other illegitimate criteria. See, e.g., New York State Club Assn. v. New York City, 487 U.S. 1, 10-11, 13-14, 108 S.Ct. 2225, 2232-2233, 2234-2235, 101 L.Ed.2d 1 (1988). In the extreme case, some form of narrowly tailored racial preference might be necessary to break down patterns of deliberate exclusion.

Nor is local government powerless to deal with individual instances of racially motivated refusals to employ minority contractors. Where such discrimination occurs, a city would be justified in penalizing the discriminator and providing appropriate relief to the victim of such discrimination. See generally McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802-803, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 1824-1825, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973). Moreover, evidence of a pattern of individual discriminatory acts can, if supported by appropriate statistical proof, lend support to a local government's determination that broader remedial relief is justified. See Teamsters, supra, 431 U.S., at 338, 97 S.Ct., at 1856.

Even in the absence of evidence of discrimination, the city has at its disposal a whole array of race-neutral devices to increase the accessibility of city contracting opportunities to small entrepreneurs of all races. Simplification of bidding procedures, relaxation of bonding requirements, and training and financial aid for disadvantaged entrepreneurs of all races would open the public contracting market to all those who have suffered the effects of past societal discrimination or neglect. Many of the formal barriers to new entrants may be the product of bureaucratic inertia more than actual necessity, and may have a disproportionate effect on the opportunities open to new minority firms. Their elimination or modification would have little detrimental effect on the city's interests and would serve to increase the opportunities available to minority business without classifying individuals on the basis of race. The city may also act to prohibit discrimination in the provision of credit or bonding by local suppliers and banks. Business as usual should not mean business pursuant to the unthinking exclusion of certain members of our society from its rewards.

In the case at hand, the city has not ascertained how many minority enterprises are present in the local construction market nor the level of their participation in city construction projects. The city points to no evidence that qualified minority contractors have been passed over for city contracts or subcontracts, either as a group or in any individual case. Under such circumstances, it is simply impossible to say that the city has demonstrated "a strong basis in evidence for its conclusion that remedial action was necessary." Wygant, 476 U.S., at 277, 106 S.Ct., at 1849.

Proper findings in this regard are necessary to define both the scope of the injury and the extent of the remedy necessary to cure its effects. Such findings also serve to assure all citizens that the deviation from the norm of equal treatment of all racial and ethnic groups is a temporary matter, a measure taken in the service of the goal of equality itself. Absent such findings, there is a danger that a racial classification is merely the product of unthinking stereotypes or a form of racial politics. "[I]f there is no duty to attempt either to measure the recovery by the wrong or to distribute that recovery within the injured class in an evenhanded way, our history will adequately support a legislative preference for almost any ethnic, religious, or racial group with the political strength to negotiate 'a piece of the action' for its members." Fullilove, 448 U.S., at 539, 100 S.Ct., at 2806 (STEVENS, J., dissenting). Because the city of Richmond has failed to identify the need for remedial action in the awarding of its public construction contracts, its treatment of its citizens on a racial basis violates the dictates of the Equal Protection Clause. Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit is



* On April 11, 1983, the Richmond City Council adopted the Minority Business Utilization Plan (the Plan). The Plan required prime contractors to whom the city awarded construction contracts to subcontract at least 30% of the dollar amount of the contract to one or more Minority Business Enterprises (MBE's). Ordinance No. 83-69-59, codified in Richmond, Va., City Code, § 12-156(a) (1985). The 30% setaside did not apply to city contracts awarded to minority-owned prime contractors. Ibid.

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