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High court drops affirmative action case

A long-running fight over government recruiting requirements for broadcasters and cable systems yesterday was cast into the limelight as the country's top affirmative case Tuesday when the Supreme Court dropped plans to rule on a major affirmative action case.

Tuesday's action involved white-owned Adarand Contractors, which challenged federal set-asides for minority contractors. The justices said the current case, which could have made the rough legal road for affirmative action even bumpier, was marred by too many procedural errors to warrant a ruling.

A 1995 Supreme Court ruling in a previous incarnation of the Adarand case required affirmative action rules to survive strict judicial scrutiny by demonstrating that a pressing societal wrong was being addressed. That decision still stands.

The 1995 decision fueled efforts to eliminate other federal affirmative action rules, including old FCC rules requiring broadcasters to show that their employment ranks mirrored the demographics of their local markets. Relying on the Adarand case, federal appeals judges in Washington threw out those rules in 1998.

In January, the same court threw out the FCC's first attempt at a rewrite, which would have given broadcasters and cable operators the pick of two recruiting options.

Civil rights groups have asked the Supreme Court to uphold the new rules, but the justices haven't decided whether to take the case.

In the meantime, the FCC plans to propose a third version of affirmative action rules soon. - Bill McConnell