WASHINGTON — The Reagan Administration urged the Supreme Court today to impose limits on affirmative action plans giving preferential treatment in promotions to women and minorities in cases from California and Alabama.
The justices heard arguments in an affirmative action case involving the promotion of a woman instead of an allegedly more qualified man by a county road agency in California.
In the other case, Solicitor General Charles Fried, the Administration's chief courtroom lawyer, said a court-ordered plan for promoting equal numbers of black and white state troopers in Alabama was "profoundly illegal" even though only a few jobs were at stake.
Decision in July
The two cases are expected to answer important lingering questions over preferential job promotions for women and minorities. The high court is expected to announce its rulings by July.
The Administration opposes the affirmative action plans in both cases.
The California case is the first in which the high court is addressing directly preferential treatment for women in the workplace.
Paul Johnson, a 57-year-old highway worker with 30 years experience, was denied promotion to dispatcher by the Santa Clara County Transportation Agency in 1980. The job instead went to Diane Joyce, a 42-year-old widow with four children.
Johnson said he was more qualified because he scored two points higher than Joyce on an oral examination and because examiners who conducted the test unanimously recommended him for the promotion.
The county agency adopted a voluntary affirmative action plan in 1978, at a time when not one of its 238 skilled craft jobs was held by a woman. The plan calls for assigning 36% of the agency's jobs to women, minorities and the handicapped.
Johnson sued and a federal judge ruled in his favor on grounds there had been no evidence of discrimination against women by the agency when the affirmative action plan was adopted.
But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the judge's ruling in 1984.
Reagan Administration lawyers said Johnson is the victim of "a rather extreme example of casual social engineering heedless of individual rights." It argued that the Santa Clara affirmative action plan is not narrowly tailored to overcome past discrimination by the employer.
In the Alabama case, the Administration argued that the remedy imposed for past discrimination by the state police department was excessive in punishing innocent white troopers seeking promotion.