The Supreme Court today limited the ability of minorities to recover legal fees in anti-discrimination complaints resolved in administrative proceedings rather than lawsuits.
By a 6-3 vote, the justices barred residents of a black neighborhood in North Carolina who successfully opposed a highway project from being reimbursed by the state for lawyers' fees.
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, writing for the court, said a 1976 federal law providing reimbursement of attorneys' fees in civil rights cases does not apply when such disputes are settled administratively.
"It is entirely reasonable to limit the award of attorneys' fees to those parties who, in order to obtain relief, found it necessary to file a complaint in court," she said.
But Justice William J. Brennan, in a dissenting opinion, said the ruling will have "mischievous consequences," causing unnecessary court suits.