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Johnson v Transportation Agency (1986)
The two above cases both resulted in a broadening of the scopes and protections of the Civil Rights Act via jurisprudence. In Johnson v Transportation Agency (1986), a very different result was reached that shows the changing nature and understanding of discrimination and how it work in society. The difference in this case is also directly and explicitly related to the differences in the original plaintiffs in each of these cases. Willie Griggs and Mechelle Vinson were both representatives of groups that traditionally experienced unfavorable discrimination, and both of their cases revolved around contemporary instances of this discrimination. Paul Johnson, however, was not a member of such a group, and this changed the very nature of his suit in the Court's opinion.
Johnson and a female coworker, Diane Joyce, were both employed at the Santa Clara Transportation Agency, and both qualified for promotions to the position of road dispatcher. When such a position became available, Diane Joyce received the promotion, and her gender was taken into consideration while making this decision (Oyez: Johnson 2009). Johnson filed suit, claiming that this constituted unfair discrimination based on gender and was thus a violation under the Civil Rights Act. The Transportation Agency was an affirmative action employer, and as such maintained that its action were fully in compliance with federal discrimination laws, and in fact had been attempting to carry them out in its consideration of gender and its ultimate decision. As with the other cases, this case made its way through the lower courts before the Supreme Court agreed to rule on the matter.
The other cases also ended with unanimous decisions from the Supreme Court Justices; this case was decided on a vote of six to three in favor of the Transportation Agency (Oyez: Johnson 2009). Citing the fact that gender was not the sole basis for the promotion but rather was one of many factors considered, and also because there was no absolute bar (in the form of a quota or other more strictly discriminatory practice) to the promotion of men within the Transportation Agency, it was decided that the Civil Rights Act had not been violated in this case (Oyez: Johnson 2009). Though strictly speaking there was some discrimination in the form of an employment opportunity being explicitly rendered to someone based on gender (and thus the three dissenting opinions from the Court), the intent and arguably the letter of the Civil Rights Act was, in the majority opinion of the Court, upheld.
Rather than broadening the protections of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, this ruling actually limited the power of this Act, establishing that there were certain instances -- specifically of "reverse-" or "positive-discrimination," where the provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not fully apply. When Griggs v Duke Power Company (1971) was decided, the protection of minorities even in a fairly obvious situation of discrimination was not entirely assured; by the time this case was decided by the Supreme Court fifteen years later, the situation had changed to the degree that discrimination based on the advancement of certain minority groups was actually protected by case law. This shows the extreme power that jurisprudence had on this area of the law.
The changes in the application of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 based on the decision made by the Supreme Court in these cases is not only an example of the powers of jurisprudence, but also illustrates what many feel is a form of judicial activism, in which laws are made by the Court instead of by the legislature. Certainly, drastic interpretations and reinterpretations of the Act's language and effects occurred in all three cases, and the controversy of the last ruling described above continues to be a source of debate today. This, though, is the ultimate strength of the system of jurisprudence and the way laws are made and altered in the United States: there is always room for change. As society develops different needs and different values, it is possible -- highly probable, in fact -- that the Supreme Court will reinterpret the Act in new ways in the future.
FindLaw (2009). Meritor Savings Bank v Vinson (1986). Accessed 11 December 2009. http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=U.S.&vol=477&invol=57
Oyez. (2009). Griggs v Duke…[continue]
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