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Wards Cove Packing v. Atonio

New Majority

It was a conservative Court that ruled on Wards Cove. President Ronald Reagan, taking office in 1980 and re-elected for a second term in 1984, had achieved one of the goals of his "Reagan Revolution": to finalize the turn to the right that the Court had taken in the early 1970s. Reagan had unusual presidential fortune in the opportunity to appoint several Supreme Court justices upon the retirements of senior members, and he did so with conservative judges who sometimes faced heated questioning in Senate confirmation hearings. The Reagan appointments were Sandra Day O'Connor in 1981, Antonin Scalia in 1986, and Anthony M. Kennedy in 1988; in 1986 the president elevated Justice William H. Rehnquist, an appointee of Richard Nixon and a staunch conservative, to Chief Justice. With Byron H. White, on the Court since 1962, the justices now wielded a majority over their more liberal-leaning colleagues like William J. Brennan, Jr., and Thurgood Marshall.

In June of 1989, the Court announced their 5-4 vote on Wards Cove. The majority opinion, written by White, stated that the mere presence of racial imbalance within a workforce does not show a violation of Title VII. Instead, in order to prove that "disparate impact" discrimination had occurred, White stated, plaintiff employees must compare the racial makeup of the company with the demographics of the qualified applicants in the area. Furthermore, the opinion of the Court declared, employees have to show that a specific company policy keeps the workforce unfairly segregated. The justices reversed the ninth court decision, and sent it back for further trial at the district court level.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1989 to 1994Wards Cove Packing v. Atonio - Significance, Title Vii, New Era, New Majority, Pro-business Climate, What Is White Collar Crime?