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Jewish Groups Have Mixed Reaction to Ruling on Minority Preferences

Two Jewish organizations had different reactions to a landmark affirmative action ruling issued by the Supreme Court this week.

In a 5-4 decision announced Wednesday, the high court upheld the constitutionality of two Federal Communications Commission policies aimed at increasing the representation of minority broadcasters on the air waves.

The case, Metro Broadcasting Inc. vs. Federal Communications Commission, involved two FCC policies that give minority broadcasters special preferences in obtaining FCC licenses. One of those policies allows a broadcaster who is about to lose a license to sell it to a minority applicant at a reduced price.

Justice William Brennan, who wrote the court’s decision, ruled that the FCC policies do not violate the equal-protection clause of the 14th Amendment, since they are in line with “longstanding congressional support” for achieving “the important governmental objective of broadcast diversity.”

The Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith expressed disappointment with the decision. In a “friend-of-the-court” brief filed jointly with the conservative Mountain States Legal Foundation, ADL argued that the FCC policies are unconstitutional, since they give preferences to certain races.

ADL maintained that program diversity is not a “compelling” interest to justify using a racial preferences. “Program diversity could best be achieved by a freely operating marketplace,” the ADL brief said.

‘BENIGN RACE-CONSCIOUS MEASURE’

But in a brief filed with several other groups, the American Jewish Committee argued that the FCC practices only consider minority status to be a “plus factor” or “enhancement” in the awarding of contracts. The policies do not guarantee a minority applicant will receive a license, it said.

AJCommittee’s president, Sholom Comay, praised the Supreme Court for having “acknowledged that the U.S. Congress has authority to utilize this ‘benign race-conscious’ measure in order to seek increased diversity of voices and viewpoints on the airwaves.”

This policy does exclude anyone from applying for a license, since “minority ownership and management is but one factor in a complex multi-factor proceeding,” he pointed out.

Despite their differences in this affirmative action case, both ADL and AJCommittee are supporting the Civil Rights Act of 1990, now before Congress. The legislation strengthens protection against discrimination on the basis of race or sex that was weakened by five Supreme Court decisions in 1989.

The Senate is expected to act on the civil rights bill when it comes back from its July 4 recess. The House of Representatives is waiting for Senate action before it moves on the bill.

ADL, AJCommittee and other Jewish groups have supported the bill, believing that it will not result in quotas. But one Jewish group, Agudath Israel of America, has argued that the bill could lead employers to impose quotas on their own to protect themselves from legal challenges.

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