Affirmative action in the United States
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In the United States, affirmative action refers to equal opportunity employment measures that Federal contractors and subcontractors are legally required to adopt. These measures are intended to prevent discrimination against employees or applicants for employment, on the basis of "color, religion, sex, or national origin". Examples of affirmative action offered by the United States Department of Labor include outreach campaigns, targeted recruitment, employee and management development, and employee support programs.
The impetus towards affirmative action is to redress the disadvantages associated with overt historical discrimination. Further impetus is a desire to ensure public institutions, such as universities, hospitals and police forces, are more representative of the populations they serve. Affirmative action is a subject of controversy. Some policies adopted as affirmative action, such as racial quotas or gender quotas for collegiate admission, have been criticized as a form of reverse discrimination, and such implementation of affirmative action has been ruled unconstitutional by the majority opinion of Gratz v. Bollinger. Affirmative action as a practice was upheld by the court's decision in Grutter v. Bollinger.
History of term
Affirmative action in the United States began as a tool to address the persistent discrimination against African Americans in the 1960s. This specific term was first used to describe US government policy in 1961. Directed to all government contracting agencies, President John F. Kennedy's Executive Order 10925 mandated "affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin."
Four years later, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law Executive Order 11246 codifying Affirmative Action, compelling Federal Contractors to establish written programs. President Johnson elaborated on the importance of affirmative action to achieving true freedom for African Americans:
|“||Nothing is more freighted with meaning for our own destiny than the revolution of the Negro American...In far too many ways American Negroes have been another nation: deprived of freedom, crippled by hatred, the doors of opportunity closed to hope...But freedom is not enough. You do not wipe away the scars of centuries by saying: Now you are free to go where you want, and do as you desire, and choose the leaders you please. You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, 'you are free to compete with all the others,' and still justly believe that you have been completely fair...This is the next and the more profound stage of the battle for civil rights. We seek not just freedom but opportunity. We seek not just legal equity but human ability, not just equality as a right and a theory but equality as a fact and equality as a result...To this end equal opportunity is essential, but not enough, not enough.||”|
After describing the specific historical context of American affirmative action, President Johnson outlined the basic social science view that supports such policies:
|“||Men and women of all races are born with the same range of abilities. But ability is not just the product of birth. Ability is stretched or stunted by the family that you live with, and the neighborhood you live in--by the school you go to and the poverty or the richness of your surroundings. It is the product of a hundred unseen forces playing upon the little infant, the child, and finally the man.||”|
As the social science explaining impact of such 'unseen forces' has developed, affirmative action has widened in scope. In 1967, President Johnson amended a previous executive order on equal employment opportunity to expressly mention "discrimination on account of sex" as well.
One of the United States' first major applications of affirmative action, the Philadelphia Plan, was enacted by the Nixon administration in 1969. The Revised Philadelphia Plan was controversial for its use of strict quotas and timetables to combat the institutionalized discrimination in the hiring practices of Philadelphia's skilled trade unions.
The concept and application of affirmative action has developed since its inception, though its motivation remains the same.
||This section needs additional citations for verification. (September 2007)|
- Established the concept of affirmative action by mandating that projects financed with federal funds "take affirmative action" to ensure that hiring and employment practices are free of racial bias.
- 1964 - Section 717 of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
- The Johnson administration embraced affirmative action in 1965, by issuing U.S Executive order 11246, later amended by Executive order 11375. The order, as amended, aims "to correct the effects of past and present discrimination". It prohibits federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating against any employee or applicant for employment because of race, skin color, religion, gender, or national origin. The order requires that contractors take affirmative action to ensure that "protected class, underutilized applicants" are employed when available, and that employees are treated without negative discriminatory regard to their protected-class status.
- The order specifically requires certain organizations accepting federal funds to take affirmative action to increase employment of members of preferred racial or ethnic groups and women. Any organization with fifty or more employees and an aggregate revenue exceeding $50,000 from a single federal contract during a twelve-month period must have a written affirmative action plan. This plan must include goals and timetables for achieving full utilization of women and members of racial minorities, in quotas based on an analysis of the current workforce compared to the availability in the general labor pool of women and members of racial minorities.
- The order is enforced by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs of the Employment Standards Administration of the U. S. Department of Labor and by the Office of Civil Rights of the Justice Department.
- 1969 - Revised Philadelphia Plan
- During the Nixon administration, affirmative action was adopted as a federal mandate for companies with federal contracts and for labor unions whose workers were engaged in those projects. This revised Philadelphia Plan was spearheaded by Labor Department official Arthur Fletcher.
- This order claims to build upon the Office of Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) established in 1969 by clarifying the Secretary of Commerce's authority to "(a) implement Federal policy in support of the minority business enterprise program; (b) provide additional technical and management assistance to disadvantaged businesses; (c) to assist in demonstration projects; and (d) to coordinate the participation of all Federal departments and agencies in an increased minority enterprise effort."
- 1973 - Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
- Section 717 of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 require all United States Federal Agencies to implement affirmative employment opportunity programs for all federal employees. EEOC Equal Employment Opportunity Management Directive 715 (MD 715) provides guidance as to how such programs are to be implemented.
- 1974 - DeFunis v. Odegaard 416 U.S. 312 (1974)
- The Supreme Court held that the UC Davis medical school admissions program violated the equal protection clause with the institution of quotas for underrepresented minorities. However, Justice Lewis Powell's decision in the majority upheld diversity in higher education as a "compelling interest" and held that race could be one of the factors in university admissions.
- 1979 - U.S. Executive Order 12138
- Issued by President Carter, this executive order created a National Women's Business Enterprise Policy and required government agencies to take affirmative action in support of women's business enterprises.
- 1989 - City of Richmond v. J.A. Croson Co., 488 U.S. 469 (1989) (strict scrutiny standard to state and local programs).
- 1989 - Wards Cove Packing Co. v. Atonio, 490 U.S. 642 (1989) revised the standards established by the 1971 Griggs decision.
- People with disabilities as a group were more fully recognized as being protected by this act.
- 1995 - Adarand Constructors v. Peña, 515 U.S. 200 (1995)
- established strict scrutiny standard of review for race and ethnic-based Federal Affirmative Action programs.
- (first successful legal challenge to racial preferences in student admissions since Regents of the University of California v. Bakke).
- 2009 - Ricci v. DeStefano
- 1946 - Mendez v. Westminster School District
- Penn/Stump v City of Oakland, 1967
- This Consent Decree stated that men and women should be hired by race and gender as police officers in the same percentage that they are represented in the population of the city. This process took more than twenty years to achieve. At the time, there were approximately 34 black police officers on the Oakland Police department and no black females among them. At this time, the militant Black Panther Party had formed in part due to police brutality at the hands of Oakland's overwhelmingly white police force. The City of Oakland, by contrast, had a population that was nearly majority African American, prompting the push for recruiting minority police officers.
- Proposition 209, 1996
- This proposition mandates that "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." Prop 209 was controversial because it was promoted as civil rights legislation, although it was essentially a ban on affirmative action. Proponents argue that the measure ensures that the civil rights of Whites and Asian-Americans are protected by ensuring parity between races.
- Initiative 200, 1998
- in Washington was overwhelmingly passed by the electorate. Taking effect on December 3, 1998, it applies to all local governments, including counties, cities, and towns. I-200 prohibits "preferential treatment" based on race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in public employment, education, and contracting.
- Smith v. University of Washington 233 F.3d 1188 (9th Cir. 2000) :
- Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1, 149 Wn.2d 660, 72 P.3d 151 (2003), 2003
- The Washington State Supreme Court interpreted I-200 to forbid affirmative actions that promote a "less qualified" applicant over a "better qualified" one, but not programs that sought to achieve diversity without consideration of individual merit.
In the beginning, racial classifications that identified race were inherently suspect and subject to strict scrutiny. These classifications would only be upheld if necessary to promote a compelling governmental interest. Later the U.S. Supreme Court decided that racial classifications that benefited underrepresented minorities were to only be upheld if necessary and promoted a compelling governmental purpose. (See Richmond v. J.A. Croson Co.) There is no clear guidance about when government action is not "compelling", and such rulings are rare.
- Grutter v. Bollinger, 2003
- The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that race could be used as one of several factors in professional school admissions without necessarily violating the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. The Court found that the University of Michigan Law School's narrowly tailored policy which considered race and other factors, with no quota or predetermined weight associated with the factors, was constitutional and appropriate "to further a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body."
- Gratz v. Bollinger, 2003
- The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions system, which granted extra "points" to minorities based on race, and which determined admissions status based on cumulative points, was unconstitutional because it is too mechanical and does not appear to consider the individual's actual contribution to the educational environment.
- An attorney who filed an amicus brief on behalf of Pennsylvania legislators and former legislators in Grutter v. Bollinger, Rep. Mark B. Cohen of Philadelphia, said that "The cumulative effect of the Bakke, Grutter, and Bollinger cases is that no one has a legal right to have any demographic characteristic they possess be considered a favorable point on their behalf, but an employer has a right to take into account the goals of the organization and the interests of American society in making decisions. This is a moderate, inclusive position that ably balances the various legal interests involved."
- Proposal 2, 2006
- After Grutter and Gratz, in November 2006, voters in the State of Michigan made affirmative action illegal by passing Proposal 2 (Michigan Civil Rights Initiative), a state-wide referendum amending the Michigan Constitution. Proposal 2 bans public affirmative action programs that give preferential treatment to groups or individuals based on their race, gender, color, ethnicity or national origin for public employment, public education or public contracting purposes. The amendment, however, contains an exception for actions that are mandated by federal law or that are necessary in order for an institution to receive federal funding. All attempts to appeal this legislation on questions of constitutionality have thus far failed.
- In November of 2008, Nebraska voters passed a constitutional ban on government-sponsored affirmative action. Initiative 424 bars government from giving preferential treatment to people on the basis of ethnicity or gender.
In 2010 Arizona voters passed a constitutional ban on government-sponsored affirmative action known as Proposition 107.
Ricci v. DeStefano was heard by the United States Supreme Court in 2009. The case concerns white and Hispanic firefighters in New Haven, Connecticut, who upon passing their test for promotions to management were denied the promotions, allegedly because of a discriminatory or at least questionable test. The test gave 17 whites and two Hispanics the possibility of immediate promotion. Although 23% of those taking the test were African American, none scored high enough to qualify. Because of the possibility the tests were biased in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, no candidates were promoted pending outcome of the controversy. In a split 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court ruled that New Haven had engaged in impermissible racial discrimination against the White and Hispanic majority.
As of January 1, 2012, affirmative action is not allowed in college admissions and employment.
During November 6, 2012 election poll, majority of Oklahoma voters voted 'yes' to Oklahoma Affirmative Action Ban Amendment which will end affirmative action in college admissions and employment.
Arguments in favor of affirmative action
President Kennedy stated in Executive Order 10925 that "discrimination because of race, creed, color, or national origin is contrary to the Constitutional principles and policies of the United States"; that "it is the plain and positive obligation of the United States Government to promote and ensure equal opportunity for all qualified persons, without regard to race, creed, color, or national origin, employed or seeking employment with the Federal Government and on government contracts"; that "it is the policy of the executive branch of the Government to encourage by positive measures equal opportunity for all qualified persons within the Government"; and that "it is in the general interest and welfare of the United States to promote its economy, security, and national defense through the most efficient and effective utilization of all available manpower".
Some individual American states also have orders that prohibit discrimination and outline affirmative action requirements with regard to race, creed, color, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, gender, age, and disability status.
Proponents of affirmative action argue that by nature the system is not only race based, but also class and gender based. To eliminate two of its key components would undermine the purpose of the entire system. The African American Policy Forum believes that the class based argument is based on the idea that non-poor minorities do not experience racial and gender based discrimination. The AAPF believes that "Race-conscious affirmative action remains necessary to address race-based obstacles that block the path to success of countless people of color of all classes". The groups goes on to say that affirmative action is responsible for creating the African American middle class, so it does not make sense to say that the system only benefits the middle and upper classes.
A study conducted at the University of Chicago in 2003 found that people with "black-sounding" names such as Lakisha and Jamal are 50 percent less likely to be interviewed for a job compared to people with "white-sounding" names such as Emily or Greg.
A recent study by Deirdre Bowen tested many of the arguments used by the anti-affirmative action camp. Her research showed that minority students experience greater hostility, and internal and external stigma in schools located in states that ban affirmative action—not the schools where students may have benefited from affirmative action admissions.
Arguments against affirmative action
||The neutrality of this section is disputed. (January 2009)|
Affirmative action has been the subject of numerous court cases, where it is often contested on constitutional grounds. Some states specifically prohibit affirmative action, such as California (Proposition 209), Washington (Initiative 200), Michigan (Michigan Civil Rights Initiative), and Nebraska (Nebraska Civil Rights Initiative).
Richard Sander claims that by artificially elevating minority students into schools they otherwise would not be capable of attending, this discourages them and tends to engender failure and high dropout rates for these students. He claims that the supposed "beneficiaries" of affirmative action - minorities - do not actually benefit and rather are harmed by the policy.
The controversy surrounding affirmative action’s effectiveness is based on the idea of class inequality. Opponents of racial affirmative action argue that the program actually benefits middle- and upper-class African Americans and Hispanic Americans at the expense of lower-class European Americans and Asian Americans. This argument supports the idea of solely class-based affirmative action. America’s poor is disproportionately made up of people of color, so class-based affirmative action would disproportionately help people of color. This would eliminate the need for race-based affirmative action as well as reducing any disproportionate benefits for middle- and upper-class people of color.
|Overall Acceptance Rate||Black Acceptance Rate||% Difference|
In 1976, a group of Italian-American professors at City University of New York asked to be added as an affirmative action category for promotion and hiring. Italian-Americans are usually considered white in the U.S. and would not be covered under affirmative action policies, but the professors believed they were underrepresented.
A 2005 study by Princeton sociologists Thomas J. Espenshade and Chang Y. Chung compared the effects of affirmative action on racial and special groups at three highly selective private research universities. The data from the study represent admissions disadvantage and advantage in terms of SAT points (on the old 1600-point scale):
- Whites: 0 (control group)
- Blacks: +230
- Hispanics: +185
- Asians: –50
- Recruited athletes: +200
- Legacies (children of alumni): +160
In 2009, Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade and researcher Alexandria Walton Radford, in their book 'No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal', examined data on students applying to college in 1997 and calculated that Asian-Americans needed nearly perfect SAT scores of 1550 to have the same chance of being accepted at a top private university as whites who scored 1410 and African-Americans who got 1100. Whites were three times, Hispanics six times, and blacks more than 15 times as likely to be accepted at a US university as Asian-Americans. These results were after controlling for grades, scores, family background (legacy status) and athletic status (whether or not the student was a recruited athlete).
Some opponents of affirmative action, like Ward Connerly, call it reverse discrimination, saying affirmative action requires the very discrimination it is seeking to eliminate. According to these opponents, this contradiction makes affirmative action counter-productive. Other opponents say affirmative action causes unprepared applicants to be accepted in highly demanding educational institutions or jobs which result in eventual failure. (See, for example, Richard Sander's study of affirmative action in Law School, bar exam and eventual performance at law firms). Other opponents say that affirmative action lowers the bar, and so denies those who strive for excellence on their own merit and the sense of real achievement. (See, for example, Clarence Thomas' "My Grandfather's Son: A Memoir".) Some argue that affirmative action itself has some merit when it is targeted to true causes of social deprivation such as poverty, but that race-, ethnicity- or gender-based affirmative action is misguided.
Some opponents further claim that affirmative action has undesirable side-effects and that it fails to achieve its goals. They argue that it hinders reconciliation, replaces old wrongs with new wrongs, undermines the achievements of minorities, and encourages groups to identify themselves as disadvantaged, even if they are not. It may increase racial tension and benefit the more privileged people within minority groups at the expense of the disenfranchised within better-off groups (such as lower-class whites and Asians). There has recently been a strong push among American states to ban racial or gender preferences in university admissions, in reaction to the controversial and unprecedented decision in Grutter v. Bollinger. In 2006, nearly 60% of Michigan voters decided to ban affirmative action in university admissions. Michigan joined California, Florida, Texas, and Washington in banning the use of race or sex in admissions considerations. Some opponents believe, among other things, that affirmative action devalues the accomplishments of people who belong to a group it's supposed to help, therefore making affirmative action counter-productive.
Prominent people against affirmative action
Conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, the only current black Justice, opposes affirmative action. He believes the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment forbids consideration of race, such as race-based affirmative action or preferential treatment. He also believes it creates "a cult of victimization" and implies blacks require "special treatment in order to succeed". Thomas also cites his own experiences of affirmative action programs as a reason for his criticism.
Libertarian economist Thomas Sowell identified what he says are negative results of affirmative action in his book, Affirmative Action Around the World: An Empirical Study. Sowell writes that affirmative action policies encourage non-preferred groups to designate themselves as members of preferred groups [i.e. primary beneficiaries of affirmative action] to take advantage of group preference policies; that they tend to benefit primarily the most fortunate among the preferred group (e.g., upper and middle class blacks), often to the detriment of the least fortunate among the non-preferred groups (e.g., poor white or Asian); that they reduce the incentives of both the preferred and non-preferred to perform at their best — the former because doing so is unnecessary and the latter because it can prove futile — thereby resulting in net losses for society as a whole; and that they engender animosity toward preferred groups as well.
Implementation in universities
In the U.S., a prominent form of racial preferences relates to access to education, particularly admission to universities and other forms of higher education. Race, ethnicity, native language, social class, geographical origin, parental attendance of the university in question (legacy admissions), and/or gender are sometimes taken into account when the university assesses an applicant's grades and test scores. Individuals can also be awarded scholarships and have fees paid on the basis of criteria listed above. In 1978, the Supreme Court ruled in Bakke v. Regents that public universities (and other government institutions) could not set specific numerical targets based on race for admissions or employment. The Court said that "goals" and "timetables" for diversity could be set instead.
The racial preferences debate related to admission to U.S. college and universities reflects competing notions of the mission of colleges: "To what extent should they pursue scholarly excellence, to what extent civic goods, and how should these purposes be balanced?". Scholars such as Ronald Dworkin have asserted that no college applicant has a right to expect that a university will design its admissions policies in a way that prizes any particular set of qualities. In this view, admission is not an honor bestowed to reward superior merit but rather a way to advance the mission as each university defines it. If diversity is a goal of the university and their racial preferences do not discriminate against applicants based on hatred or contempt, then affirmative action can be judged acceptable based on the criteria related to the mission the university sets for itself.
Consistent with this view, admissions officers often claim to select students not based on academic record alone, but also on commitment, enthusiasm, motivation, and potential. Highly selective institutions of higher learning do not simply select only the highest SAT performers to populate their undergraduate courses, but high performers, with scores of 1500 to 1600 points, are extraordinarily well represented at these institutions.
During a panel discussion at Harvard University's reunion for African-American alumni during the 2003–04 academic year, two prominent black professors at the institution—Lani Guinier and Henry Louis Gates—pointed out an unintended effect of affirmative action policies at Harvard. They stated that only about a third of black Harvard undergraduates were from families in which all four grandparents were born into the African-American community. The majority of black students at Harvard were West Indian and African immigrants or their children, with some others the mixed-race children of biracial couples. One Harvard student, born in the South Bronx to a black family whose ancestors have been in the United States for multiple generations, said that there were so few Harvard students from the historic African-American community that they took to calling themselves "the descendants" (i.e., descendants of American slaves). The reasons for this underrepresentation of historic African Americans, and possible remedies, remain a subject of debate.
UCLA professor Richard H. Sander published an article in the November 2004 issue of the Stanford Law Review that questioned the effectiveness of racial preferences in law schools. He noted that, prior to his article, there had been no comprehensive study on the effects of affirmative action. The article presents a study that shows that half of all black law students rank near the bottom of their class after the first year of law school, and that black law students are more likely to drop out of law school and to fail the bar exam. The article offers a tentative estimate that the production of new black lawyers in the United States would grow by eight percent if affirmative action programs at all law schools were ended. Less qualified black students would attend less prestigious schools where they would be more closely matched in abilities with their classmates, and thus perform relatively better. Sander helped to develop a socioeconomically based affirmative action plan for the UCLA School of Law after the passage of Proposition 209 in 1996, which prohibited the use of racial preferences by public universities California schools. This change occurred after studies that showed that the graduation rate of blacks at UCLA was 41%, compared to 73% for whites.
To accommodate the ruling in Hopwood v. Texas banning any use of race in school admissions, the State of Texas passed a law guaranteeing entry to any state university if a student finished in the top 10% of their graduating class. Florida and California have also replaced racial quotas with class rank and other criteria. Class rank tends to benefit top students at less competitive high schools, to the detriment of students at more competitive high schools. This effect, however, may be intentional, as less-funded, less competitive schools are more likely to be schools where minority enrollment is high. Critics argue that class rank is more a measure of one's peers than of one's self. The top-10% rule adds racial diversity only because schools are still highly racially segregated because of residential patterns. The class rank rule has the same consequence as traditional affirmative action: opening schools to students who would otherwise not be admitted had the given school used a holistic, merit-based approach. From 1996 to 1998, Texas had merit-based admission to its state universities, and minority enrollment dropped. The state's adoption of the "top 10 percent" rule returned minority enrollment to pre-1996 levels.
In 2006, Jian Li, a Chinese undergraduate at Yale University, filed a civil rights complaint with the Office for Civil Rights against Princeton University, claiming that his race played a role in their decision to reject his application for admission, and seeking the suspension of federal financial assistance to the university until it "discontinues discrimination against Asian-Americans in all forms" by eliminating race and legacy preferences. Princeton Dean of Admissions Janet Rapelye responded to the claims in the 30 November 2006 issue of the Daily Princetonian by stating that "the numbers don't indicate [discrimination]." She said that Li was not admitted because "Many others had far better qualifications." Li's extracurricular activities were described as "not all that outstanding". Li countered in an email, saying that his placement on the waitlist undermines Rapelye's claim. “Princeton had initially waitlisted my application,” Li said. “So if it were not for a yield which was higher than expected, the admissions office very well may have admitted a candidate whose ‘outside activities were not all that outstanding.
A study in 2007 by Mark Long, an economics professor in University of Washington, demonstrated that the alternatives of affirmative action proved ineffective in restoring minority enrollment in public flagship universities in California, Texas, and Washington. More specifically, apparent rebounds of minority enrollment can be explained by increasing minority enrollment in high schools of those states, and the beneficiaries of class-based (not race) affirmative action would be white students. At the same time, affirmative action itself is both morally and materially costly: 52 percent of white populace—compared to 14 percent of black—thought it should be abolished, implying white distaste of using racial identity, and full-file review is expected to cost the universities an additional $1.5 million to $2 million per year, excluding possible cost of litigation.
In 2012, Abigail Fisher, an undergraduate student at Louisiana State University, and Rachel Multer Michalewicz, a law student at Southern Methodist University, filed a lawsuit to challenge the University of Texas admissions policy, asserting it had a "race-conscious policy" that "violated their civil and constitutional rights". The University of Texas employs the "Top Ten Percent Law", under which admission to any public college or university in Texas is guaranteed to high school students who graduate in the top ten percent of their high school class. Fisher has brought the admissions policy to court because she believes that she was denied acceptance to the University of Texas based on her race, and thus her right to equal protection according to the 14th Amendment was violated. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Fisher on October 10, 2012 and will render a ruling in 2013.
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