What is affirmative action? How did it originate?
Affirmative action is a set of public policies that were created to decrease discrimination of students in higher education. The policies affect college admission enrollment of students with a variety of backgrounds and differ by state. Affirmative action was originally created in hopes of getting rid of discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.
Historically, the topic is polarizing among voters, educators and students. Many question whether it’s hurtful or helpful to give preferential treatment to people based on their race, gender, or origins. Some believe the policies hinder the country’s quest to become a “color-blind” society by creating animosity among groups. However, others believe there are natural inequalities in the education system that need to be more balanced.
Check out the slideshow below for the history of this controversial policy.
President John F. Kennedy creates the Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity with Executive Order 10925. The order mandates that federally funded projects "take affirmative action" to ensure that hiring and employment practices are free of racial bias.
President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act -- the most sweeping civil rights legislation in American since the post-Civil War Reconstruction. The Civil Rights Act bars any type of discrimination based on color, race, religion or national origin.
In an executive order, President Lyndon B. Johnson orders government contractors to take "affirmative action" when hiring employees, making sure that equal opportunities are given to job applicants of any race. Two years later, the order is amended to address gender discrimination as well.
In this landmark Supreme Court case, Allan Bakke, a white applicant to UC Davis Medical School, sues after being rejected twice. The University of California had set aside spots for minority and economically disavantaged applicants. Some minority students with lower scores than Bakke's were admitted.
The court rules that strict quotas are unconstitutional, although race is a legitimate factor in admissions. The decision imposes limitations on affirmative action so that providing greater opportunities for minorities does not come at the expense of the majority's rights.
The use of strict quotas is supported as one of the only means of combating overt racism. In this Supreme Court case, Alabama's state department of public safety has defiantly resisted hiring any blacks for decades. Even after numerous court orders and lawsuits, blacks are not promoted and there are no blacks found past entry-level positions. The court rules that imposing strict quotas in this case is acceptable.
After the Supreme Court case Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Peña calls for close examination of existing discrimination before imposing affirmative action measures on federal programs, President Bill Clinton makes a speech setting the administration's guidelines on affirmative action. Clinton says that affirmative action is still needed, but that quota systems and reverse discrimination should not be tolerated.
Cheryl Hopwood and three other white law-school applicants at the University of Texas challenge the school's affirmative action program, saying they were rejected because of unfair preferences toward less-qualified minority applicants. The 5th U.S. Court of Appeals suspends the university's affirmative action admissions program and rules the 1978 Bakke decision invalid -- saying that race should not be a factor in admissions and that educational diversity is not a goal that would serve state interests. The Supreme Court lets the appeals court decision stand.
Californians vote in favor of Proposition 209, a state ban on all forms of affirmative action, becoming the first state to reject affirmative action across the board.
Washington becomes the second state to abolish state affirmative action measures, passing Initiative 200 (or "I 200"), which is similar to California's Proposition 209.
Florida's state legislature approves the education component of Governor Jeb Bush's "One Florida" initiative, which is aimed at ending affirmative action in the state. Race can no longer be a factor in considering applicants for college admissions.
A federal judge upholds the University of Michigan's affirmative action policy, saying that it is constitutional. The university had pointed out that since athletes, children of alumni and other applicants are given some preference in admissions, an affirmative action program would also offer similar beneficial diversity to the student body and should be allowed.
In a similar case to Gratz v. Bollinger, a different judge came up with a different decision, saying that "intellectual diversity bears no obvious or necessary relationship to racial diversity." The law school's affirmative action policy is struck down. But a year later, the decision is reversed on appeal.
In January, President George W. Bush files a brief against University of Michigan, saying that a program of racial preferences for minority applicants at the school is "divisive, unfair and impossible to square with the Constitution." On April 1, the Supreme Court hears arguments in the case.
"In Parents v. Seattle and Meredith v. Jefferson, affirmative action suffers a setback when a bitterly divided court rules, 5–4, that programs in Seattle and Louisville, Ky., which tried to maintain diversity in schools by considering race when assigning students to schools, are unconstitutional."
"Ballot measures proposing to ban affirmative action -- race and gender based preferences by public entities-- goes before voters in two states, Nebraska and Colorado. The ban passes with more than 50% of the vote in Nebraska. Voters in Colorado, though, reject the proposed ban."
Arizona votes approve Prop 107 which bans "affirmative action programs that give preferential treatment to or discriminate against any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education or public contracting."
The decision follows similar policies in Michigan, Nebraska, Washington, and California. The state of California upheld their 14-year-long ban on affirmative action in Proposition 209, where the state Supreme Court said it infringed on civil rights protected under federal law. Read more: Affirmative Action Timeline