The conservative Southeastern Legal Foundation filed suit against the city of Atlanta yesterday, charging that a city policy which has set aside one-third of city contracts for minority and women-owned businesses is “illegal and unconstitutional.”
The policy, which has been in effect for the past 24 years, is a successful program that has been emulated by other cities. Franklin M. Lee of the Minority Business Enterprise Legal Defense and Education Fund said “Atlanta was really one of the first municipalities to take a strong stand on minority business participation. They refused to engage in major projects without minority businesses playing a significant part.”
Mayor Bill Campbell pledged that the city would mount an aggressive defense of the program, which he says has “strengthened our [Atlanta’s] economy” and “helped remedy past and present discrimination.” Campbell pledged, “We will vigorously defend this program with a team of the best lawyers and professionals available.”
Opponents of the city’s affirmative action policy argue that women and minority-owned businesses no longer face discrimination in Atlanta, which has had a black mayor and a majority-black city council for more than two decades.
Supporters of the city policy argue that minority and women-owned firms face harsh discrimination in the private sector and need government contracts in order to grow and prosper.
The U.S. Supreme Court has significantly limited the scope and breadth of affirmative action programs in recent years. The Court determined that government set-asides may only be used when there is evidence of continued discrimination against minority and women-owned firms, and only when alternative remedies to discrimination have proven unsuccessful.
The Southeastern Legal Foundation has challenged affirmation action programs at schools in Atlanta and Nashville and worked to defeat the Census Bureau’s plan to use statistical sampling in the 2000 census. Supporters of statistical sampling argue that poor, minority and immigrant populations are under -counted when traditional “headcounts” are used to measure the U.S. population, since these families are less likely to have stable homes.