Affirmative action was first introduced by President Kennedy in 1961 to fight discrimination in spite of the civil rights laws. President Johnson further developed the law saying, “This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights.”
A Temporary Policy
Affirmative Action was seen as a temporary remedy focusing on education and jobs. The policy required that measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for salary, promotions, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid as whites.
In the late 70’s, the Supreme Court Case, University of California Regents vs. Bakke, shows the issue of reverse discrimination. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected twice by a medical school that accepted minority applicants with lower test and GPA scores. Bakke filed a suit claiming that the school discriminated against him. Bakke won and the Supreme Court clarified that affirmative action shouldn’t have a set number of minority applicants to fill.
The opposition didn’t end there. Political conservatives believed that the system opened the doors for jobs and education to minorities while shutting doors on whites. Jews and Asians, minorities that also experienced adversity and racism, didn’t understand why there weren’t receiving help by the government.
Landmark Ruling Supports Affirmative Action
In 2003, the Supreme Court upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting students because of the interest to create diversity. Affirmative action was no longer a way of redressing past injustice, but promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity.
In 2006, Michigan voters approved a state constitutional amendment that prohibited "all sex- and race-based preferences in public education, public employment, and public contracting." This prompted a reevaluation of the 2003 court-ruling, and in 2011, the decision was repealed.
What It Means Today
Discrimination continues to be a problem in America. A study found that black job applicants without a criminal record were no more likely to receive a callback from employers than were white applicants with a felony conviction. Also, residential segregation, which greatly impacts education and job opportunities, has been found to be as great as it was at the end of the Jim Crow era. These reasons are why affirmative action policies exist today.
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CRS Report for Congress – Federal Affirmative Action Law: A brief history