The Reagan Administration is asking 50 states, cities and counties to modify affirmative action court decrees to eliminate hiring quotas except in cases where they are used to help victims of past discrimination, a Justice Department official said Friday.
John Wilson, a spokesman for the department's civil rights division, said the request reflected the department's desire to bring such court orders and consent decrees into conformity with a June, 1984, Supreme Court decision in a case involving Memphis, Tenn., firefighters.
Wilson would not identify the localities that were sent letters seeking modification of affirmative action plans.
Assistant Atty. Gen. William Bradford Reynolds has interpreted the so-called Stotts decision in the Memphis case as affirmative action devices such as quotas and set-asides to actual victims of discrimination--rather than applying these remedies to future job applicants who happen to be members of the same race.
Others, however, maintain that the 6-3 Supreme Court decision in the Memphis case was narrower than Reynolds has asserted. These critics say the high court's Memphis decision was focused on preventing discrimination victims from being protected from layoffs at the expense of union members whose labor contracts state that layoffs should be based on seniority.
In a speech to a Florida Bar group in Miami last month, Reynolds had said he believes that the United States might someday soon "put behind us for good" court-ordered mandatory hiring quotas based on race and sex.
Such a change, Reynolds said at the time, "will help to bring an end to that stifling process by which government and society view citizens as possessors of racial characteristics, not as the unique individuals they are."