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Morton v. Mancari

Native Americans Not Ethnic

Justice Blackmun, writing for a unanimous Court, found the lower court erred on both issues regarding the implications of the EEO Act and Fifth Amendment application. First, the Court determined that Congress did not intend to repeal Native American preference with the 1972 EEO Act. Blackmun highlighted two specific sections of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act explicitly exempting from its coverage the preferential employment of "Indians by Indian tribes or by industries located on or near Indian reservations." As a senator stated on the floor of Congress during the passage of the Civil Rights Act, "this exemption is consistent with the Federal Government's policy of encouraging Indian employment and with the special legal position of Indians." In contrast, nowhere did the 1972 EEO Act mention Native American preference. Therefore, Blackmun wrote that merely by extending general racial discrimination prohibitions to federal employment in 1972 without explicitly repealing the Native American preferences, one could not conclude that the protections of Native American preferences in the Civil Rights Act were changed in any way. Therefore, the Court would be mistaken to conclude that Congress intended to consider the long-standing Native American preferences in BIA employment as racially discriminatory without a direct mention. Moreover, Blackmun added that in 1972 shortly after passage of the EEO Act, Congress passed new Native American preferences. These preferences were part of an education bill establishing government programs for training teachers of Native American children. In light of this obvious continued support of Native American preference, it seemed improbable that the same Congress, shortly before, would have condemned BIA preferences as racially discriminatory.

Secondly, the Court found that Native American preference for BIA promotions was reasonable. Morton had argued the preference policy had a rational basis designed to further Native American self-government. Native American preference was a long-standing, important part of the U.S. government's Native American program and traditionally considered an exception to government antidiscrimination policies. Therefore, Blackmun concluded that such preference was not racial discrimination in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. The Supreme Court unanimously reversed the district court's judgement and returned both cases to that court for further consideration.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1973 to 1980Morton v. Mancari - Significance, Preferences And The Fifth Amendment, Native Americans Not Ethnic, Impact