The U.S. Supreme Court has dismissed Adarand Constructors' legal challenge to the U.S. Department of Transportation's use of racial preferences in its contracting program for procedural reasons unrelated to the merits of the case. The court did not uphold or reject the use of preferences. Instead, it focused on the parties' dispute over the scope of the case and decided the dispute clouded the constitutional issues that the court had hoped to address.
The case attracted national attention back in 1995, when the Supreme Court held that the government's "subcontracting compensation clause" (SCC) is subject to "strict scrutiny." Earlier, the court held that the federal government, unlike state or local governments, can grant various preferences to racial and ethnic minorities under certain circumstances. The court did not, however, decide whether the SCC could meet that standard. The case was sent back to the lower courts for a final ruling on the merits.
On appeal, the Tenth Circuit confused the issue by accepting the government's argument that TEA-21 and the new DOT regulations for federal-aid construction, both put in place after the 1995 ruling, addressed the court's concerns. Adarand then appealed to the Supreme Court.