Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Pena
515 U.S. 200 (1995)

  • The Department of Transportation (DOT) awarded a construction contract to Mountain Gravel. Mountain Gravel then hired Gonzales as a subcontractor.
    • Gonzales won, despite the fact that another subcontractor, Adarand, submitted a lower bid.
      • Gonzales won because the DOT gave Mountain Gravel financial incentives to employ subcontractors that are owned or controlled by “socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.”
  • Adarand sued, claiming that the financial incentives were a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 5th Amendment.
    • Adarand argued that they had been discriminated against on the basis of race, and that was a clear violation of the Equal Protection Clause.
  • The Trial Court found for DOT. Adarand appealed.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed. Adarand appealed.
    • The Appellate Court reviewed DOT’s policy based on the guidance the US Supreme Court provided in Metro Broadcasting, Inc. v. FCC (497 U.S. 547 (1990)).
      • In Metro, the Court had created a two-tiered system for analyzing racial classifications.
      • Metro was a reversal of the previous guidance the Court gave in Richmond v. J.A. Croson Co. (488 U.S. 469 (1989)), where they held strict scrutiny was the proper level of review.
  • The US Supreme Court reversed and remanded under the strict scrutiny standard.
    • The US Supreme Court overruled the decision in Metro and found that since this policy involved a suspect classification, the level of review should be strict scrutiny.
      • That’s a return to the holding in Croson.
    • The Court found that the standard of review should not be based on which party is discriminated, but on whether there was discrimination at all.
      • The Court found that all racial classifications under the Equal Protection Clause are under strict scrutiny.
        • That includes affirmative-action programs like this one, in addition to those that discriminate against minorities.
  • Note that since this was a Federal case, it falls under the 5th Amendment, but the ruling encompasses the same analysis as 14th Amendment cases.