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Timeline of Affirmative Action Milestones

This article chronologically outlines court cases concerning affirmative action in the United States.
Grades:
9 |
10 |
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March 6, 1961

Executive Order 10925 makes the first reference to "affirmative action"
President John F. Kennedy issues Executive Order 10925, which creates the Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity and mandates that projects financed with federal funds "take affirmative action" to ensure that hiring and employment practices are free of racial bias.

July 2, 1964

Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson


The most sweeping civil rights legislation since Reconstruction, the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination of all kinds based on race, color, religion, or national origin.
June 4, 1965

Speech defining concept of affirmative action

In an eloquent speech to the graduating class at Howard University, President Johnson frames the concept underlying affirmative action, asserting that civil rights laws alone are not enough to remedy discrimination:

"You do not wipe away the scars of centuries by saying: 'now, you are free to go where you want, do as you desire, and choose the leaders you please.' You do not take a man who for years has been hobbled by chains, liberate him, bring him to the starting line of a race, saying, 'you are free to compete with all the others,' and still justly believe you have been completely fair. . . . This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights. We seek not just freedom but opportunity—not just legal equity but human ability—not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."
Sept. 24, 1965

Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time


Issued by President Johnson, the executive order requires government contractors to "take affirmative action" toward prospective minority employees in all aspects of hiring and employment. Contractors must take specific measures to ensure equality in hiring and must document these efforts. On Oct. 13, 1967, the order was amended to cover discrimination on the basis of gender.
1969

The Philadelphia Order
Initiated by President Richard Nixon, the "Philadelphia Order" was the most forceful plan thus far to guarantee fair hiring practices in construction jobs. Philadelphia was selected as the test case because, as assistant secretary of labor Arthur Fletcher explained, "The craft unions and the construction industry are among the most egregious offenders against equal opportunity laws. . . . openly hostile toward letting blacks into their closed circle." The order included definite "goals and timetables." As President Nixon asserted, "We would not impose quotas, but would require federal contractors to show 'affirmative action' to meet the goals of increasing minority employment."

June 28, 1978

Regents of the University of California v. Bakke
This landmark Supreme Court case imposed limitations on affirmative action to ensure that providing greater opportunities for minorities did not come at the expense of the rights of the majority-affirmative action was unfair if it led to reverse discrimination. The case involved the Univ. of California, Davis, Medical School, which had two separate admissions pools, one for standard applicants, and another for minority and economically disadvantaged students. The school reserved 16 of its 100 places for this latter group.

Allan Bakke, a white applicant, was rejected twice even though there were minority applicants admitted with significantly lower scores than his. Bakke maintained that judging him on the basis of his race was a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Supreme Court ruled that while race was a legitimate factor in school admissions, the use of such inflexible quotas as the medical school had set aside was not. The Supreme Court, however, was split 5-4 in its decision on the Bakke case and addressed only a minimal number of the many complex issues that had sprung up about affirmative action.

July 2, 1980

Fullilove v. Klutznick
While Bakke struck down strict quotas, in Fullilove the Supreme Court ruled that some modest quotas were perfectly constitutional. The Court upheld a federal law requiring that 15% of funds for public works be set aside for qualified minority contractors. The "narrowed focus and limited extent" of the affirmative action program did not violate the equal rights of non-minority contractors, according to the Court-there was no "allocation of federal funds according to inflexible percentages solely based on race or ethnicity."

May 19, 1986

Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education
This case challenged a school board's policy of protecting minority employees by laying off non-minority teachers first, even though the non-minority employees had seniority. The Supreme Court ruled against the school board, maintaining that the injury suffered by non-minorities affected could not justify the benefits to minorities: "We have previously expressed concern over the burden that a preferential-layoffs scheme imposes on innocent parties. In cases involving valid hiring goals, the burden to be borne by innocent individuals is diffused to a considerable extent among society generally. Though hiring goals may burden some innocent individuals, they simply do not impose the same kind of injury that layoffs impose. Denial of a future employment opportunity is not as intrusive as loss of an existing job."

Feb. 25, 1987

United States v. Paradise
In July 1970, a federal court found that the State of Alabama Department of Public Safety systematically discriminated against blacks in hiring: "in the thirty-seven-year history of the patrol there has never been a black trooper." The court ordered that the state reform its hiring practices to end "pervasive, systematic, and obstinate discriminatory exclusion of blacks." A full 12 years and several lawsuits later, the department still had not promoted any blacks above entry level nor had they implemented a racially fair hiring system. In response, the court ordered specific racial quotas to correct the situation. For every white hired or promoted, one black would also be hired or promoted until at least 25% of the upper ranks of the department were composed of blacks. This use of numerical quotas was challenged. The Supreme Court, however, upheld the use of strict quotas in this case as one of the only means of combating the department's overt and defiant racism.

Jan. 23, 1989

City of Richmond v. Croson
This case involved affirmative action programs at the state and local level-a Richmond program setting aside 30% of city construction funds for black-owned firms was challenged. For the first time, affirmative action was judged as a "highly suspect tool." The Supreme Court ruled that an "amorphous claim that there has been past discrimination in a particular industry cannot justify the use of an unyielding racial quota." It maintained that affirmative action must be subject to "strict scrutiny" and is unconstitutional unless racial discrimination can be proven to be "widespread throughout a particular industry." The Court maintained that "the purpose of strict scrutiny is to `smoke out' illegitimate uses of race by assuring that the legislative body is pursuing a goal important enough to warrant use of a highly suspect tool. The test also ensures that the means chosen `fit' this compelling goal so closely that there is little or no possibility that the motive for the classification was illegitimate racial prejudice or stereotype."

June 12, 1995

Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Pena
What Croson was to state- and local-run affirmative action programs, Adarand was to federal programs. The Court again called for "strict scrutiny" in determining whether discrimination existed before implementing a federal affirmative action program. "Strict scrutiny" meant that affirmative action programs fulfilled a "compelling governmental interest," and were "narrowly tailored" to fit the particular situation. Although two of the judges (Scalia and Thomas) felt that there should be a complete ban on affirmative action, the majority of judges asserted that "the unhappy persistence of both the practice and the lingering effects of racial discrimination against minority groups in this country" justified the use of race-based remedial measures in certain circumstances.

July 19, 1995

White House guidelines on affirmative action
President Clinton asserted in a speech that while Adarand set "stricter standards to mandate reform of affirmative action, it actually reaffirmed the need for affirmative action and reaffirmed the continuing existence of systematic discrimination in the United States." In a White House memorandum on the same day, he called for the elimination of any program that "(a) creates a quota; (b) creates preferences for unqualified individuals; (c) creates reverse discrimination; or (d) continues even after its equal opportunity purposes have been achieved."

March 18, 1996

Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School
Cheryl Hopwood and three other white law-school applicants at the University ofTexas challenged the school's affirmative action program, asserting that they were rejected because of unfair preferences toward less qualified minority applicants. As a result, the 5th U.S. Court of Appeals suspended the university's affirmative action admissions program and ruled that the 1978 Bakke decision was invalid-while Bakke rejected racial quotas it maintained that race could serve as a factor in admissions. In addition to remedying past discrimination, Bakke maintained that the inclusion of minority students would create a diverse student body, and that was beneficial to the educational environment as a whole. Hopwood, however, rejected the legitimacy of diversity as a goal, asserting that "educational diversity is not recognized as a compelling state interest." The Supreme Court allowed the ruling to stand. In 1997, the Texas Attorney General announced that all "Texas public universities [should] employ race-neutral criteria."

Nov. 3, 1997

Proposition 209 enacted in California
A state ban on all forms of affirmative action was passed in California: "The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, 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." Proposed in 1996, the controversial ban had been delayed in the courts for almost a year before it went into effect.

Dec. 3, 1998

Initiative 200 enacted in Washington State
Washington becomes the second state to abolish state affirmative action measures when it passed "I 200," which is similar to California's Proposition 209.

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