In a sharply divided 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled thatfederal affirmative action programsmust adhere to the same strict standards as the states when offering help to minorities. The decision reverses a 1980 ruling that had allowed Congress greater leeway than the states in creating such programs. The case involved Randy Pech, a white Colorado contractor, who charged that a federal program offering government contractors financial incentives to use minority-owned firms as subcontractors unfairly discriminated against his business. Writing for the majority, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said the government must show that racial preference programs "serve a compelling government interest" and will be used to redress specific and identifiable effects of past discrimination. Applying this "strict scrutiny" standard, says TIME legal correspondent Adam Cohen, means "a definite setback for affirmative action. The standard is very difficult to meet." Under this ruling, for example, the government would have to show that setting aside a certain percentage of contracts for minority-owned firms would directly compensate for past discrimination in such business. In today's decision, the court stopped short of striking down the suit, instead sending it back to a lower court to determine if the case met the more rigorous standard.