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Fullilove v. Klutznick

The Supreme Court Decides

On 2 July 1980, the Supreme Court issued its decision. A 6-3 plurality of justices affirmed the rulings of the lower courts and rejected Fullilove's claims. While it differed in its reasoning, the six-justice plurality did agree that the set-aside program did not violate either the Equal Protection Clause or the Civil Rights Act.

In his majority opinion, Chief Justice Burger invoked Congress' authority under the Spending Power provision of Article I of the Constitution to justify the set-aside initiative. "Congress has frequently employed the Spending Power to further broaden policy objectives by conditioning receipt of federal moneys upon compliance by the recipient with federal statutory and administrative directives," Burger wrote. He went on to find justification for the law under the clause allowing Congress to regulate commerce as well.

But the crux of Burger's ruling lay in his conclusion that Congress could use racial and ethnic criteria in crafting federal laws designed to remedy discrimination. "[W]e reject the contention that in the remedial context the Congress must act in a wholly `color-blind' fashion," Burger wrote. He went on to observe:

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. 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.

Justices Powell and Marshall, joined by Brennan and Blackmun, wrote separate concurring opinions in which they stated their own reasons for declaring the set-aside provision constitutional.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1973 to 1980Fullilove v. Klutznick - The Facts Of The Case, The Supreme Court Decides, The Dissenting Opinion, Public Works Employment Act