Minnick v. California Department of Corrections
Decided on June 1, 1981

 Officers sue California Department of Corrections for
discriminating against white males and denying them promotions


A. Issues Discussed: Civil Rights (race), 14th Amendment, equal protection clause 

B. Legal Question Presented:

Should a writ of certiorari be granted and constitutional issues reviewed when lower courts' proceedings have not concluded?


A. Background:

In 1975, Petitioners, Minnick and Darden, two white male correctional officers employed by the California Department of Corrections (CDC), filed suit in California state court against respondents, CDC, alleging that the Department's affirmative-action plan unlawfully discriminated against white males and that the petitioners had been denied promotions because of race. After a trial at which over 30 witnesses testified, the case was argued at length and submitted to the trial judge for decision on November 23, 1976.  On the basis of the California Supreme Court's decision in Bakke v. University of California Regents the trial court enjoined respondents from giving any preference on the basis of race or sex as a factor in making job assignments.

On respondents' appeal, the California Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's ruling, holding that the trial court's rationale was no longer justified in view of the US Supreme Court's intervening decision in University of California Regents v. Bakke.

The case was then brought to the US Supreme Court.  The high court granted the writ of certiorari to determine if the merits of the case should be reviewed.

B. Counsel of Record:
Opposing Side
Stuart R. Pollak argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief was Steven Lee Mayer. Ronald Yank argued the cause for petitioners. With him on the briefs was Gary M. Messing.
C. The Arguments:
Opposing Side
"This Court's decisions in Bakke, Weber, and Fullilove establish the validity of Respondents' race and gender conscious affirmative action plan under Title VII and under the Fourteenth Amendment.

The legality of this plan under Title VII is established by this Court's decision in Weber, and by the legislative history of the 1972 amendments to Title VII. This legislative history, which was not addressed in Weber, conclusively reveals Congress' intent in favor of race and gender conscious numerical measures.

Respondents' plan is constitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment because it meets the 'substantial relationship' test applied in Bakke by Justices Brennan, White, Marshall and Blackmun, as well as the 'close examination' test applied in Fullilove by Chief Justice Burger. Even the 'strict scrutiny' standard applied to remedial classifications by Justice Powell is satisfied here, as Respondents' plan is premised on extensive legislative and administrative identifications of past discrimination."

– ACLU brief in Minnick v. California Department of Corrections
"Any use of racial classification must be subject to strict scrutiny, must be justified by a compelling state interest, and must be narrowly drawn to achieve that interest… The respondents utterly failed to advance and prove at trial a compelling state interest for the use of racial classifications and references… Even if respondents had shown that use of race was necessary to the accomplishment of a compelling interest, the AAP in text, and as implemented, was not narrowly tailored to the achievement of that interest… The respondents have failed to advance and prove an important governmental interest necessary for the use of gender-based classifications… The constitutional contours of a proper remedial program, designed to remedy prior past discrimination, must utilize traditional principles of equity and must take into account the legitimate expectations of co-workers and co-applicants of all races and both sexes."

Petitioner Brief in brief in Minnick v. California Department of Corrections

Opposing Side
E. Richard Larson, Isabelle Katz Pinzler, and Bruce J. Ennis filed a brief for the American Civil Liberties Union as amicus curiae, urging affirmance.

Other briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed by Solicitor General McCree, Assistant Attorney General Days, Deputy Solicitor General Wallace, Edwin S. Kneedler, Brian K. Landsberg, Jessica Dunsay Silver, Leroy D. Clark, Lutz Alexander Prager, and Paul E. Mirengoff for the United States et al.; by Robert Abrams, Attorney General of New York, Shirley Adelson Siegel, Solicitor General, Robert Hermann and Peter Bienstock, Assistant Attorneys General, and Daniel Berger, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, for the New York State Department of Correctional Services; by Charles Stephen Ralston, Jack Greenberg, Eric Schnapper, O. Peter Sherwood, and Barry L. Goldstein for the City of Detroit; and by Mark N. Aaronson and Thomas A. Seaton for the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing et al.
Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed by Robert A. Helman, Douglas A. Poe, Meyer Eisenberg, Justin J. Finger, Jeffrey P. Sinensky, and Richard A. Weisz for the Anti-Defamation League of B'Nai B'Rith; and by Robert E. Williams, Douglas S. McDowell, and Daniel R. Levinson for the Equal Employment Advisory Council.


"Accordingly, because of significant developments in the law - and perhaps in the facts as well - and because of significant ambiguities in the record concerning both the extent to which race or sex has been used as a factor in making promotions and the justification for such use, we conclude that we should not address the constitutional issues until the proceedings in the trial court are finally concluded and the state appellate courts have completed their review of the trial court record.

Accordingly, the writ of certiorari is dismissed."
Justice Vote: 8 Pro vs. 1 Con

  • Stevens, J. Pro (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Burger, C. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • White, B. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Marshall, T. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Blackmun, H. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Powell, L. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Rehnquist, W. Pro (Joined majority opinion, wrote concurring opinion)
  • Brenan, W. Pro (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Stewart, P. Con (Wrote dissenting opinion)

The ACLU filed as amicus urging affirmance of the California Court of Appeal's decision; the US Supreme Court followed the California Court of Appeal's reasoning by dismissing the writ of certiorari in a 8-1 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win