Originally created 03/12/98

`Set aside' paradox 031298 - The Augusta Chronicle



A week after a vote was lost in the U.S. Senate to remove a federal Transportation Department "set aside" program requiring at least 10 percent of highway construction revenues go to minority-owned businesses, along comes the U.S. Supreme Court rejecting yet another legal appeal to restore such construction quotas at the state level.

Specifically, the High Court let stand a lower court ruling that, without proof of discrimination against minority construction firms, a Dade County, Fla., policy of discriminating in favor of minority firms was unlawful.

Obviously on the issue of affirmative action, majority senators and majority justices are not reading from the same page. The Senate's surprising endorsement of set asides puts 15 Republicans on the same side of the race preference issue as 43 Senate Democrats and the Clinton administration. (Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., voted "no" with 36 Republicans.)

But whenever the Supreme Court clashes with other branches of government on a constitutional issue, such as equal protection under the law, the High Court is going to win every time.

The Senate vote against equal protection serves only to encourage Clinton's Justice Department to go to the mat again on set-asides -- and lose.

In addition to everything else that's wrong about race preference programs, defending them time and again in court is a demonstratively losing proposition that takes a heavy toll on taxpayer wallets.

This is why the Augusta Commission must continue to resist moves to enact, under the guise of "affirmative action," Dade County-type minority-preference programs.

In fact, the city's Equal Employment Opportunity Office, run by the able Brenda Byrd-Pelaez, has been doing all the right things to increase minority participation in government contracting since she was hired last year -- creating a database for disadvantaged businesses, contacting minority businesses about bid openings and holding workshops to teach them how to become certified and competitive.

These are the kind of efforts that can, over time, remedy the negative impact of past discrimination. Trying to tear up the Constitution, as the Supreme Court has made clear in several rulings now, is the wrong way to go about it.