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Supreme Court workers negative for anthrax

Justices hear affirmative action case

Justices hear affirmative action case

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Supreme Court will remain closed Thursday and a conference scheduled Friday was postponed despite the fact court employees have tested negative for anthrax.

The justices and 400 employees were tested for the bacteria and placed on a one-week course of the antibiotic doxycycline last week after the mailroom in the building's basement tested positive for anthrax.

Court officials late Wednesday announced the test results were negative for all the employees.

"No court personnel have shown any signs of being exposed to, or having developed any form of anthrax," said a court spokeswoman.

The justices heard arguments Wednesday in an affirmative action case at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

The case was widely viewed as a major one on the merits of a government affirmative action program, but the justices expressed doubts about whether they would issue any ruling at all.

In arguments on the Transportation Department's program to assist "socially and economically disadvantaged" firms in winning government contracts, the justices heard conflicting views on whether the program even exists.


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Adarand Construction Co., which won a major reverse discrimination case from the Supreme Court in 1995, returned to complain the government continues to discriminate against white-owned contractors.

Adarand attorney William Pendley contended the government is still trying to enforce racial preference provisions he said could damage the firm.

Solicitor Ted Olson, arguing for the government, insisted officials are enforcing the provisions in only eight states to overcome specific cases of past discrimination. Colorado, where Adarand is situated, is not one of them.

"What is [it] that you want us to do?" Justice Sandra Day O'Connor asked attorneys for both sides.

Adarand insisted it cannot compete on equal footing, but it could offer no example of a situation in which it was the low bidder and still lost the contract.

The firm said the government is clinging to prohibited preferences for minorities under a new scheme of regulations -- despite having lost six years ago.

After the court appearance, Adarand owner Randy Pesch joined Pendley at a meeting with reporters.

"If the court throws this case out, Randy will lose another contract because he's a white man, and we'll start this legal process all over," Pendley said.

Supporters of affirmative action urged the court to approve the government's regulations on their merits.

"Minority and women-owned businesses are still under-represented in the construction industry," said Marsha Greenberger, a member of the coalition Americans for a Fair Chance.

The case is Adarand Constructors Inc. v. Mineta.

-- CNN Justice Department Producer Terry Frieden contributed to this report.



• U.S. Supreme Court

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