News in Brief: A Washington Roundup

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Supreme Court Won't Hear Case On Racial Preferences in Hiring

The U.S. Supreme Court declined last week to hear the appeal of a white Nevada professor who alleged that her employer violated federal law when it gave a black applicant a preference in hiring.

The case was viewed by some legal observers as another potential high court showdown over affirmative action. But the justices on March 9 declined without comment to hear Farmer v. University and Community College System of Nevada (Case No. 97-1104).

In 1990, Yvette Farmer applied for an opening in the sociology department of the University of Nevada at Reno but was passed over in favor of a black applicant. She was later hired for another position, but at a lower salary.

The university defended its policy that encouraged the hiring of minority faculty members, stating that only 1 percent of its faculty at the time was black.

A state court jury awarded Ms. Farmer $40,000 and ruled that the university had violated federal anti-discrimination law. But the Nevada Supreme Court threw out the verdict last year. The court said the university showed it had a "compelling interest in fostering a culturally and ethnically diverse faculty."

In their appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, lawyers for Ms. Farmer compared her case to that of the white teacher in the Piscataway, N.J., school district who was laid off in favor of a black colleague.

The Piscataway school board settled the case last November, less than two months before the high court was scheduled to hear arguments.

Senate Committee OKs Internet Bills

The Senate Commerce Committee last week approved two bills affecting young people and the Internet.

One of the bills, S 1619, would require schools and libraries to install on-line blocking or filtering systems as a condition of receiving federal "E-rate" discounts on telecommunications services. The filters would be intended to prevent children from gaining access to pornography.

Many educators oppose the measure, arguing that most filters block out useful information.

Sens. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., and John B. Breaux, D-La., each proposed amendments to the bill, but the amendments were withdrawn before the committee voted.

Mr. Burns' amendment would have required schools and libraries to adopt policies for acceptable use of the Internet instead of filters. Mr. Breaux's amendment would have required schools and libraries to use filtering systems that allow different levels of access, depending on the age and maturity of the students.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the chairman of the committee and the chief sponsor of S 1619, said elements of both amendments could be worked into the bill before it reached the Senate floor.

In addition, the committee voted favorably for S 1482, a bill that would prohibit companies from distributing material that is harmful to minors on commercial World Wide Web sites. The bill was introduced by Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind.

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