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Minority media pushes court on DOT

Minority media advocates are urging the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the Department of Transportation's minority contracting preferences.

What do contracting requirements for federal construction projects have to do with communications? If DOT's rules are found unconstitutional, it's unlikely that Congress can follow through on Sen. John McCain's plan to create tax credits for media companies that sell properties to minorities, women and small businesses.

DOT's rules have been under challenge by Adarand Contractors Inc. for eight years and the case has bounced around the nation's top court and judicial panels. The original 1995 decision in Adarand's case established that minority preferences are legal only if the government proves actual harm has been has been done to minorities and has designed programs to rectify discrimination as narrowly as possible.

Adarand's current attack on the DOT's rules aims to prove that the agency's program isn't tailored narrowly enough. If the rules are struck down, minority media advocates fear the tax break plan wouldn't survive a court challenge.

"The court should defer to Congress and administrative bodies when they research and remedy the consequences of government-sponsored and government-aided discrimination," wrote David Honig, attorney for the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council, in a "friend of the court" brief released last week.

The Supreme Court will schedule oral argument in the case this fall. - Bill McConnell