The text of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This bill was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson as part of his "Great Society" legislative program. This law outlawed occupational discrimination and public segregation on the basis of race.
Affirmative action programs originated during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. What began as a drive to ensure that minorities were not discriminated against in the hiring process quickly took on a more active nature. In an effort to make up for disparate numbers of minorities in employment and college admissions, many places now give an edge to minorities with the expressed purpose of ensuring diversity.
The first major Supreme Court case to address this was University of California Regents v. Bakke, in which Justice Powell established "strict scrutiny" as the appropriate level of review for any case that involves affirmative action programs. Additionally, Justice Powell established "achieving diversity" as an acceptable justification for employing affirmative action programs, so long as the means to achieving it are sufficiently narrowly tailored to avoid violations to the Equal Protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Though many studies were performed after Bakke was decided, the issue came to a head again in 2003 when the Supreme Court looked at the admissions policies of the University of Michigan in two concurrent cases, Gratz and Grutter. In these cases, the Supreme Court once again upheld the use of race as a determining factor in admissions, so long as it wasn't too formulaic and it was a narrowly tailored policy.
Many scholars have argued, before the University of Michigan cases and after, that affirmative action programs do more harm than good. They argue that lowering standards hurts everyone, masks greater problems, and is unfair and illegal. Others argue that affirmative action has done much to bring the proportions of minorities in academia and the workforce closer to ttrue population proportions.
To deal with this dilemma, some states have chosen to ban affirmative action programs in state-funded institution. Citizens of Michigan and California, for example, have voted on and approved state constitutional amendments banning affirmative action in state agencies and state-funded universities.
Going forward, there does seem to be consensus that affirmative action programs are running their course. Many people believe that affirmative action programs are no longer needed on a racial basis, but more on a class and income-level basis. Either way, affirmative action programs will likely remain divisive.
More About This Topic...
Click thumbnails below to view links