Paradise v. Allen

Paradise v. Allen, decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1987, desegregated the Alabama state troopers by implementing a quota system. It was originally filed in 1972 against the Alabama Department of Public Safety and the Alabama Personnel Department, which oversaw the state troopers and the hiring decisions in the state, respectively. The case was named for plaintiff Phillip Paradise, who was seeking a job as a state trooper, and Walter Allen, director of public safety.

Alabama state troopers, located within the Alabama Department of Public Safety (now part of the Alabama Department of Homeland Security), had long been a symbol and tool of white supremacy in the mid-twentieth century. The all-white state troopers were notably used by governors John Patterson and George Wallace to support their resistance to desegregation by shutting down civil rights protests throughout the 1950s and 1960s. In 1965, activist Jimmie Lee Jackson‘s death at the hands of a state trooper sparked the Selma to Montgomery March for voting rights in that year. During that march, Alabama troopers, in conjunction with local police, tear gassed and beat participants at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, an event known as “Bloody Sunday.” Troopers also accompanied governors on their travels in the state, serving as bodyguards. Conspicuously, state troopers flanked George Wallace during his infamous “stand in the schoolhouse door” in 1963 at the University of Alabama.

The Paradise v. Allen case grew out of the agency’s failure to hire a single African American. In 1972, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) filed suit, in Paradise v. Shoemaker, seeking to open employment to African Americans. SPLC lawyers succeeded quickly in the District Courts and won an order to integrate the force. Federal judge Frank M. Johnson Jr. ordered the state to hire one qualified black trooper for every white trooper they hired, until 25 percent of the force was African American. With segregationist George Wallace having been reelected as governor, however, the state predictably defied the court order. The personnel department used a variety of tactics, including unfair employment and aptitude tests, to avoid hiring black applicants and, for those who did qualify, unjust training that included blatant pressure to quit and denial of promotions. To further evade employing any black troopers, the state stopped hiring altogether. Of course, it was impossible to curtail hiring for an extended period, and the state’s unjust policies were once more called into question when hiring had to resume.

In 1983, the SPLC sued again, seeking to correct promotion practices through judicial action. The district court agreed in 1983, ruling that 50 percent of all promotions had to go to black troopers, as long as there were qualified and ready to be promoted. Yet again, with Wallace as governor, the state appealed. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s ruling, and in 1987 the Supreme Court upheld the specific quota remedy. In 1988, the district court began overseeing the process, and by 1995, the force had achieved the required level of integration.

The Supreme Court decision is considered to be distinctive by legal scholars. The Supreme Court, and the court system in general, has been reluctant to allow specific numerical quotas, whether imposed by a court or by a university, even as means to address past discrimination. Indeed, most numerical quotas have been struck down. But quotas were required in Alabama mostly because of the long and pervasive record of discrimination by the two departments. Notably, not until 1994 was the first black trooper promoted to major, the highest rank a trooper can achieve without being politically appointed. Thus, it took 11 years from the beginning of the district court’s oversight for that promotion to occur and 11 years between the filing of the first lawsuit and the second.

Further Reading

  • Dees, Morris. A Lawyer’s Journey: The Morris Dees Story. Chicago: American Bar Association, 2001.

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