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Judge: No Minority Quotas

Race-based contracts ruled unconstitutional

NANCY COOK LAUER | Business Articles
The United States of America has a brutal racial legacy. This is not to suggest that racial discrimination is no longer rampant throughout society, wrote U.S. District Judge Stephan P. Mickle in an order released to attorneys from both sides via e-mail a few weeks ago. However, I am bound to follow the precedent established by (a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court ruling) and its progeny.

Mickles ruling is significant because it validates the opinion Governor Jeb Bush voiced when presenting his One Florida alternative to minority set-asides and quotas in state contracting, while sparing him the political fallout had he removed those provisions from state law himself.

The lawsuit was filed by the Florida Associated General Contractors Council, which represents some 1,500 builders and suppliers. The council claimed the law setting various voluntary percentage goals for minority participation in contracts, as well as a state university policy requiring 30-percent minority participation in construction contracts, discriminated against white companies.

In most instances, they say its a goal, but the contract language will actually say something to the effect of 30-percent minority participation, said Allen Douglas, executive director of the contractors council. So, that constitutes a quota in our eyes and in the courts as well.

Floridas state agencies and universities have entered into a settlement agreement with the builders group. The state has agreed to stop the voluntary minority-quota program, and substitute a race-neutral program to encourage participation by small businesses.

Bush tried to do away with such goals in his One Florida plan for state contracts. But the bill he signed in 2000 implementing One Florida did not remove the percentages that were currently in the law. Instead, the governor classified them as voluntary, and urged his agencies not to use them. Percentage goals for minority participation continued to be used in purchasing contracts in some state agencies, however.

Bush spokeswoman Alia Faraj defended the One Florida plan, saying it has increased minority participation dramatically in state contracting through a proactive, educational approach. State spending with minority firms has increased from $151 million in 1999 to $583 million last year, she said.

We continue to reach out to minority contractors and encourage them to compete for state contracts through One Florida, Faraj said. Our intent was to reach an agreement with Associated General Contractors, recognizing that there was a significant amount of common ground.

Mickle said that even though state law encourages, rather than requires, a certain percentage of state business be directed to minority- and women-owned firms, it still does not pass constitutional muster, because while One Florida is alleged to be permissive, the law created by the Legislature to implement it is not.

Mickle, a black federal judge from Orlando, took over the case after Tallahassee Judge Robert Hinkle recused himself because he has relatives in the university system.

Anita Davis, first vice president of the Tallahassee branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said its important that the state include people of all races when setting up its new race-neutral small-business program.

There is no such thing as race-neutral. People still do things based on friendship, what you look like, where you live, Davis said. Usually were left out of the mix when it comes to making decisions on things that affect our lives.

Reprinted from the Tallahassee Democrat

A federal judge has found Floridas law setting minority participation goals for state contracts unconstitutional, saying it violates the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment.


March 2004



 
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