Civil Rights Division Opens Investigation into Potential Discrimination in Public Contracting

The Department of Justice Civil Rights Division has opened an investigation into whether the public contracting and procurement practices of Kansas City, Missouri, comply with the U.S. Constitution and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“No person anywhere in the United States should be subjected to unlawful discrimination on the ground of race, color or national origin, and the Civil Rights Act makes Kansas City, Missouri’s receipt of federal funding contingent on keeping that commitment,” said Eric Dreiband, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. “All government in this free country must treat all persons with equal dignity and respect and without dividing people into racial and ethnic blocs for the purpose of labelling certain people winners and others losers because of their race. The Department of Justice today opened an investigation to determine whether Kansas City, Missouri’s contracting program complies with the United States Constitution and the Civil Rights Act.”

According to publicly available information, for at least 24 years, Kansas City has used quota-based “set asides” in nearly 30 percent of all public contract dollars to favor certain people because of their race and sex and disfavor others. 

The department is opening an investigation into Kansas City’s public contracting and procurement programs to determine whether those programs violate Title VI, which prohibits race discrimination by entities receiving federal funds

Title VI incorporates the anti-discrimination protections of the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment. Discrimination on the ground of race in public contracting in the form of quota-based set asides may violate the Equal Protection Clause, which provides that “[n]o state shall . . . deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” 

“Classifications based on race carry a danger of stigmatic harm. Unless they are strictly reserved for remedial settings, they may in fact promote notions of racial inferiority and lead to a politics of racial hostility.”  See City of Richmond v. J.A. Croson Co., 488 U.S. 469, 493 (1989) (plurality opinion). Quota-based set asides may violate both the Equal Protection Clause and Title VI. In City of Richmond, the Supreme Court determined that a 30 percent minority set-aside by the City of Richmond, Virginia violated the Constitution.

The notice of investigation is not a finding of fault or wrongdoing by the city or any other individual or entity, and the department has not reached any conclusions about these matters.

Additional information about the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department is available on its website at www.justice.gov/crt

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