The Justice Department's request that 51 cities, counties and states -- including several Maryland and Virginia jurisdictions -- consider revising affirmative action programs is encountering broad resistance, a random Washington Post survey indicated yesterday.
The department disclosed earlier this year that it had asked the jurisdictions to seek modifications of court orders and consent decrees giving preferential treatment in hiring or promoting women and minorities. But it declined to name the jurisdictions until required to do so yesterday under a Freedom of Information Act request by a lawyer for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
All 51 jurisdictions have replied to the Justice Department letter, a spokesman said. But Assistant Attorney General William Bradford Reynolds, head of the Civil Rights Division, declined yesterday to make the responses public.
The Washington Post subsequently contacted eight of the jurisdictions.
Louis G. Panos, press secretary for Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes, said Hughes has not decided on a position but would "certainly not" agree to changes in the agreements "if it would weaken affirmative action efforts or his policy of making certain that blacks, women and other minorities are afforded greater opportunity to participate in the governmental process."
Attorneys for four other jurisdictions -- Philadelphia, Miami, Chicago and New York State -- said they would not consider changing their consent and disagreed with the Justice Department's interpretation of a 1984 Supreme Court case on which it based its request.
The city attorney of Los Angeles said he will tell the City Council, which must decide the issue, that he also disagrees with Justice's interpretation of the case.
Norfolk City Attorney Philip Trapani said the city was "considering" modifying its consent decree, signed five or six years ago in connection with sex and racial discrimination suits against the police and fire departments.
Of the jurisdictions contacted, only Baltimore County said definitely that it would agree to modifications of its consent decree. County attorney Malcolm Spicer said he agreed with the Justice Department's interpretation.
The case on which Justice based its request is Firefighters Local Union No. 1784 v. Stotts. The Supreme Court ruled that the city of Memphis could not interfere with a legitimate seniority system to protect blacks from being laid off. Justice has interpreted the ruling as ending quotas as a legal remedy to job discrimination.
The Justice letters were sent to Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Florida and North Carolina, as well as to jurisdictions within about two dozen states. The cities included Boston, St. Louis, San Diego, San Francisco and Milwaukee.
The three Maryland targets are a 1974 decree on promotion and hiring goals for blacks and women in the Maryland State Police, a 1981 agreement on hiring goals for women in the Maryland Transportation Authority police and a 1980 settlement on hiring blacks and women by Baltimore County.
Justice asked the jurisdictions to consider deleting provisions in the orders and decrees that establish interim goals for the number of women or minorities to be hired.
Instead, it requested language saying the decree allows employers to give preference only to victims of discrimination named in a decree rather than to people who did not suffer directly. Federal judges would have to approve the changes.