The opinion of the court was delivered by: WERKER
The plaintiffs in this civil rights action, several associations of construction contractors and subcontractors and a firm engaged in heating, ventilation and air conditioning work, by order to show cause seek declaratory and injunctive relief to prevent the Secretary of Commerce, as the program administrator, and the remaining defendants, as potential project grantees, from enforcing section 103(f)(2) of the Public Works Employment Act of 1977, 42 U.S.C. § 6705(f)(2) (the "Act"), which requires 10 percent minority business enterprise participation in any local public works project funded thereunder.
Plaintiffs allege in their complaint that section 103(f)(2) of the Act (the "MBE requirement") violates the equal protection clause of the fourteenth amendment and hence also the due process clause of the fifth amendment.
Plaintiffs further allege that the MBE requirement is violative of the clear Congressional policy underlying the Civil Rights Acts of 1866 and 1964.
Similar allegations have recently been considered in several other districts.
It appears, however, that none of those courts have reached a final decision on the merits and, as a consequence, this may well be the first decision squarely holding that the MBE requirement is an entirely constitutional method of remedying prior acts of discrimination in the construction industry and one which is fully consistent with the civil rights laws that preceded it.
The complaint in this action was filed on November 30, 1977 and an initial hearing on plaintiffs' order to show cause was held the same day. At the close of that hearing, the Court denied plaintiffs' request for a temporary restraining order and, pursuant to Rule 65(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, set the matter down for a consolidated hearing on the application for a preliminary injunction and trial on the merits the following day. The court further directed that each defendant file a memorandum of law at the time of the preliminary injunction hearing and trial.
That proceeding took place on November 31 and December 2, 1977, and further memoranda have since been filed. Although the Secretary has expressed concern about the speed with which this matter proceeded to a trial, that issue, quite obviously, has been mooted by the determination reached herein.
HISTORY OF THE MBE REQUIREMENT
The Act was passed to extend the provisions of Title I of the Local Public Works Capital Development and Investment Act of 1976, Pub. L. No. 94-369, 90 Stat. 999-1012 (1976), under which Congress appropriated $2 billion to stimulate the national economy and the sagging construction industry by providing direct grants to state and local governments for the construction of public facilities which would immediately create a substantial number of jobs.
See H.R. Rep. No. 1077, 94th Cong., 2d Sess. (1976). To assure that the program would actually be of direct benefit to the construction industry, the Act added a requirement that private firms, and not governmental units, perform any work funded. Act § 103(e)(1), 42 U.S.C. § 6705(e)(1); H.R. Rep. No. 20, 95th Cong., 1st Sess. 4 (1977). An additional expenditure of $4 billion for construction projects was authorized under section 109 of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 6708, and Congress subsequently appropriated $2 billion for that purpose under what is commonly known as "Round Two" of the Local Public Works Program. Economic Stimulus Appropriations Act, Pub. L. No. 95-29, 91 Stat. 122, 124 (1977).
When the Act was being considered on the floor of the House, Representative Parren Mitchell of Maryland introduced an amendment subsequently incorporated into the Act as the MBE requirement. See 123 Cong. Rec. H 1437-41 (daily ed. Feb. 24, 1977). That provision, in its present form, reads as follows:
"Except to the extent that the Secretary determines otherwise, no grant shall be made under this chapter for any local public works project unless the applicant gives satisfactory assurance to the Secretary that at least 10 per centum of the amount of each grant shall be expended for minority business enterprises."
The Secretary of Commerce, pursuant to authority granted her under section 107 of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 6706, has also promulgated regulations to carry out the terms of the MBE requirement while still affording an escape mechanism to contractors doing business in areas where compliance with the 10 percent set-aside is impossible.
Under the regulations, a project grantee, not the contractor, can seek a waiver of the MBE requirement when it first applies for a grant or, if necessary, at any later time -- provided that sufficient supporting information is furnished to the reviewing officer. See Affid. of M.L. Banner, Chief of the Atlantic Regional Office of the Economic Development Administration, sworn to December 5, 1977. Moreover, the Department of Commerce has issued two sets of interpretive guidelines and a technical bulletin to assist project grantees in their efforts to comply with the MBE requirements.
A. Constitutionality of the Act.
The first issue presented to the Court is whether the MBE requirement incorporates a constitutionally impermissible racial or ethnic quota, as plaintiffs suggest, or merely, as defendants argue, a legislative preference intended to remedy the adverse effects of past or present discrimination. Although the Secretary of Commerce steadfastly maintains that the MBE requirement should be considered as a goal which can be waived "where facts show that enforcement would be impractical,"
Secretary's Memorandum in Opposition to Plaintiffs' Motion at 13, and presumably that it should therefore be subject to some lesser standard, the Court need not enmesh itself in the goal versus quota controversy, for resolution of the constitutional question presented by the plaintiffs would not be advanced one iota by such an exercise. No matter how the MBE requirement is characterized, it cannot be denied that it distinguishes among various business enterprises, at least in part, based upon the racial background of their principals. Consequently, since its operation involves the use of an inherently "suspect" classification, rigid scrutiny of both Congressional purpose and ...