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BS: People Talking Too Much

Rt Revd Sir jOhn from Hull 06 Jan 05 - 08:33 PM
CarolC 06 Jan 05 - 08:36 PM
Peace 06 Jan 05 - 08:44 PM
akenaton 06 Jan 05 - 08:47 PM
Peace 06 Jan 05 - 08:48 PM
GUEST,punkfolkrocker 06 Jan 05 - 08:57 PM
jaze 06 Jan 05 - 09:02 PM
number 6 06 Jan 05 - 09:09 PM
Bill D 06 Jan 05 - 09:09 PM
SINSULL 06 Jan 05 - 10:08 PM
Amos 06 Jan 05 - 10:56 PM
mack/misophist 06 Jan 05 - 11:03 PM
LilyFestre 06 Jan 05 - 11:16 PM
Gurney 07 Jan 05 - 01:03 AM
s6k 07 Jan 05 - 01:19 PM
susu 07 Jan 05 - 01:25 PM
*Laura* 07 Jan 05 - 04:20 PM
McGrath of Harlow 07 Jan 05 - 04:30 PM
Guy Wolff 07 Jan 05 - 04:52 PM
Liz the Squeak 07 Jan 05 - 05:10 PM
Peter Kasin 07 Jan 05 - 05:47 PM
LadyJean 07 Jan 05 - 11:43 PM
susu 13 Jan 05 - 12:30 PM
Blissfully Ignorant 14 Jan 05 - 12:23 PM
Little Hawk 14 Jan 05 - 12:28 PM
PoppaGator 14 Jan 05 - 12:29 PM
GUEST,Petra 14 Jan 05 - 12:33 PM
Chip2447 14 Jan 05 - 02:22 PM
GUEST,Veronica Rutledge 14 Jan 05 - 04:12 PM
GUEST,JennyO 15 Jan 05 - 05:54 AM
gnu 15 Jan 05 - 12:43 PM
Little Hawk 15 Jan 05 - 12:52 PM
gnu 15 Jan 05 - 12:58 PM
Little Hawk 15 Jan 05 - 03:26 PM
dianavan 15 Jan 05 - 11:27 PM
Rt Revd Sir jOhn from Hull 15 Jan 05 - 11:34 PM
Bee-dubya-ell 16 Jan 05 - 12:32 AM
Rt Revd Sir jOhn from Hull 16 Jan 05 - 12:48 AM
Bee-dubya-ell 16 Jan 05 - 01:18 AM
Roger the Skiffler 16 Jan 05 - 03:34 AM
lady penelope 16 Jan 05 - 01:04 PM
kindaloupehackenweez 16 Jan 05 - 11:57 PM
GUEST,yeh 10 Feb 05 - 08:27 PM
GUEST,Wayne Wang 10 Feb 05 - 08:29 PM
GUEST,yeh 10 Feb 05 - 08:31 PM
GUEST,no 10 Feb 05 - 08:38 PM
ossonflags 11 Feb 05 - 04:57 AM
Liz the Squeak 11 Feb 05 - 05:50 AM
*Laura* 11 Feb 05 - 04:29 PM
Cluin 11 Feb 05 - 09:02 PM
Teresa 11 Feb 05 - 09:23 PM
LadyJean 11 Feb 05 - 11:58 PM

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Subject: BS: People Talking Too Much
From: Rt Revd Sir jOhn from Hull
Date: 06 Jan 05 - 08:33 PM

Hello, there is a new bloke called Grayum were i work,
and he talks to much.
[especially on a weekend],
he was telling me a big storys about every place he worked at, every place he lived, at, and every car he owned, and loads of borinfg stuff like that.
and i went oustside for a cig, and he bloddy folloed me, [ and he dusent even smoke!], and keep telling me his big boring storys.
and i said to him. 2Why don't you fuking shut up?"
and he still kept talking, [he tell me every program he watches on telly, every place he been for holoday etc etcv etc], and i'm not bothered.

how can i shut him up?

i like to go work, do job, and go home, not bloddy talk to people.


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Subject: RE: BS: People Talking Too Much
From: CarolC
Date: 06 Jan 05 - 08:36 PM

Duct tape?


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Subject: RE: BS: People Talking Too Much
From: Peace
Date: 06 Jan 05 - 08:44 PM

According to another thread on the 'cat, all you have to do to get him to leave you alone is MARRY HIM! It's a no-brainer, jOhn.


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Subject: RE: BS: People Talking Too Much
From: akenaton
Date: 06 Jan 05 - 08:47 PM

Ditch the lipstick and high heels...Ake


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Subject: RE: BS: People Talking Too Much
From: Peace
Date: 06 Jan 05 - 08:48 PM

LOL

Good one, Ake. But if he does that, he'll look grubby at the wedding, won't he?


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Subject: RE: BS: People Talking Too Much
From: GUEST,punkfolkrocker
Date: 06 Jan 05 - 08:57 PM

@ Sir jOhn from Hull ..

we should be mates..
i cant tolerate talkers..

whats wrong with 99% of people..


why are they so insecure they need to constantly hear the sound
of their own voices.
and then insist we have to reply to their vacuous nonsense
just so they can validate thier own existance..

ps.. my mrs moans that i dont talk enough..

mystery to me..!!???!!!


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Subject: RE: BS: People Talking Too Much
From: jaze
Date: 06 Jan 05 - 09:02 PM

Sounds like he just needs a friend, JOhn


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Subject: RE: BS: People Talking Too Much
From: number 6
Date: 06 Jan 05 - 09:09 PM

Nothing more of a pain in the ass than going out for a peaceful quiet smoke and there is someone there yadda, yadda, yaddaing all about absolutely nothing. Force him to shutup and have a smoke, maybe that bug him off completely.


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Subject: RE: BS: People Talking Too Much
From: Bill D
Date: 06 Jan 05 - 09:09 PM

I know at least 3 people like that...a couple of them live where they don't get to talk to 'real' folks much, and I understand..sort of...when they use me to 'catch up'... but one just TALKS!


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Subject: RE: BS: People Talking Too Much
From: SINSULL
Date: 06 Jan 05 - 10:08 PM

Eat your own curry and fart long and loud. He will be discouraged...at least I would.


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Subject: RE: BS: People Talking Too Much
From: Amos
Date: 06 Jan 05 - 10:56 PM

Blow smoke onhim, John--they hate that!

A


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Subject: RE: BS: People Talking Too Much
From: mack/misophist
Date: 06 Jan 05 - 11:03 PM

If you don't want to listen, tell him everything you know about Morris Dancing. Then tell him everything you don't know about it. If that isn't enough, go on to another subject, the glories of Hull, perhaps.


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Subject: RE: BS: People Talking Too Much
From: LilyFestre
Date: 06 Jan 05 - 11:16 PM

When you get it all figured out as to how to stop folks from talking so much, be sure to fill us in! My mother-in-law had to stay with us for a week or so because we couldn't get her to her country home due to snow and ice. So, lucky us, she stayed here. The woman talked from the minute she got up to the minute she fell asleep. I would get up and go into the bathroom just to get away from her. She would wheel her wheelchair to the bathroom door and contine to talk and Talk and TALK!!!!!!!!   ARGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGG!!!!!!!!!!! My only suggestion to you is to tune the person out. I've gotten pretty good at that...........

Michelle


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Subject: RE: BS: People Talking Too Much
From: Gurney
Date: 07 Jan 05 - 01:03 AM

Get youself a walkman for smokos. Tell him it is a head pacemaker to calm you down and stop you attacking people. Ask him to go away now, because you "don't want to go back to Strangeways."

Some people just don't know when to shut up. Me, sometimes.


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Subject: RE: BS: People Talking Too Much
From: s6k
Date: 07 Jan 05 - 01:19 PM

have him fired for sexual harassment


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Subject: RE: BS: People Talking Too Much
From: susu
Date: 07 Jan 05 - 01:25 PM

make him think that you are finally out of prison for killing someone who wouldn't shut up. Or you can just say, "hey wanna go out for a drink later? you can order a niec tall glass of shut the hell up!"- just a thought


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Subject: RE: BS: People Talking Too Much
From: *Laura*
Date: 07 Jan 05 - 04:20 PM

shoot him


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Subject: RE: BS: People Talking Too Much
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 07 Jan 05 - 04:30 PM

Introduce him to someone else and run.


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Subject: RE: BS: People Talking Too Much
From: Guy Wolff
Date: 07 Jan 05 - 04:52 PM

Im one of THEM !! I had a wonderful girl freind years ago and I remember after a great dinner date we were in the truck on the way back to her house and she turned to me and said " Could you be quiet for just a little while ." Even her breathing was fun to listen to so I didnt mind a bit !! .. Some of us are just used to filling up the space if its left to us..
                   With some comunication we are teachable ... !! I know he has no idea your thinking what your thinking ... Thanks for the thread . All the best , Guy


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Subject: RE: BS: People Talking Too Much
From: Liz the Squeak
Date: 07 Jan 05 - 05:10 PM

I have a guy like that who sits opposite me at work. He witters on about non consequential garbage and then tells me to shut up when I sing along to my radio, that I put on the headphones, to drown him out!

LTS


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Subject: RE: BS: People Talking Too Much
From: Peter Kasin
Date: 07 Jan 05 - 05:47 PM

Talk to his supervisor, since this guy won't leave you alone and ignores your pleas. Let the supervisor know its affecting your work due to the distraction and unwelcomeness. Hopefully, if the supervisor is on the ball, he'll talk to the offending party and let him know what he's doing is not ok. This might throw some fear into him, if he knows a supervisor is watching, or at least aware of the situation. If the offending party has any brains, he'll know that if he doesn't stop, further complaints may mean discliplinary action against him.

Chanteyranger


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Subject: RE: BS: People Talking Too Much
From: LadyJean
Date: 07 Jan 05 - 11:43 PM

Once a week, I clean for Motor Mouth Morrison. I start my day (Unless I'm lucky and she isn't there when I get there.) with an hour by hour description of her weekend. Where she went, what she ate, who she saw, what they did, what she said. Then I can start my cleaning. If I'm lucky, I don't get another monologue until I'm ready to go home. Then I get another earful about the dream she had the night before, or the soap opera she's watching, or the movie she saw, or the book she's reading, or the class she's taking, or the problems she's having, and she's having a lot of problems. My duties are light, and they pay well enough. But she DRIVES ME INSANE with her talking. I do not get a chance to get a word in edgewise. I just sit, and listen and wonder when she's going to let me go and catch my bus.
Some people just think the world is there to listen to them. I shared my booth at Pensic with another professional talker. Ask Hollowfox about her! Someday I'm going to shut her and Motor Mouth Morrison in a small room, and see who gives first.


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Subject: RE: BS: People Talking Too Much
From: susu
Date: 13 Jan 05 - 12:30 PM

Sir John! Well does the bloke at work still talk your ear off?


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Subject: RE: BS: People Talking Too Much
From: Blissfully Ignorant
Date: 14 Jan 05 - 12:23 PM

I can't stand people who talk to much either...have you tried scratching your arse really obviously while he's wittering on? Works for me...


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Subject: RE: BS: People Talking Too Much
From: Little Hawk
Date: 14 Jan 05 - 12:28 PM

I saw the thread title, and thought...gotta be jOhn from Hull! I was right. :-)


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Subject: RE: BS: People Talking Too Much
From: PoppaGator
Date: 14 Jan 05 - 12:29 PM

Maybe you could conspicuously clean out your ears with Q-tips (cotton-tipped swabs), closely examine the wax on the Q-tip, dig back into your ears for more wax, squint at the tip of the swab again, grunt in appreciation, maybe take a sniff, dig into you ear canal some more, etc. Then insert earplugs. He may eventually take a hint.


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Subject: RE: BS: People Talking Too Much
From: GUEST,Petra
Date: 14 Jan 05 - 12:33 PM

I have a similar problem a work. I asked a friend who is a manager to give me some advice. He referred me to a website with management approaches to it. Sorry, I don't know the address now.

What I did was to change my workspace a bit so people were less likely to sit at my desk. It is a pain, because customers come in and have to stand, but I did break the routine. The website also made me realise that it wasn't just me being a pain, it is a recognised problem at work.

I did also say to two people " I am trying to leave my workspace free ". One went into a huff for about a week. The other one nodded and walked away. The problem is definitely not so bad now.


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Subject: RE: BS: People Talking Too Much
From: Chip2447
Date: 14 Jan 05 - 02:22 PM

introduce him to mudcat...he'll be right at home here and find several kindred spirits...

Chip2447


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Subject: RE: BS: People Talking Too Much
From: GUEST,Veronica Rutledge
Date: 14 Jan 05 - 04:12 PM

People have accused me of talking too much. Yes, me. Imagine! I can't fathom what they are on about. I never talk except when I have something to say, and it's usually something entirely worth listening to, I think. Boys say that girls talk too much, but that is because most boys are so dead stupid and one-dimensional with all their blather about sports and such that they can't really sustain a conversation anyway! They're fools, in my opinion. When females talk, at least we have something to say and we know how to say it. I find that most boys have a working vocabulary of about 35 or so words and phrases, punctuated by pathetic efforts to impress others by using rude language and gross gestures. Rather like that wretched parrot! Well, I don't stoop so low as to do that. Not me. I restrict myself to pungent observations on the mental inadequacies of my detractors, who are mercifully few at the moment, or else I attempt to set a verbal standard that leaves them standing there stupidly with a blank look on their pimply faces. Not that I don't feel for others! I do. But I don't suffer fools gladly, that's all. I think that it's important in this life to make it absolutely clear from the start that one is not going to put up with sheer rubbish nor is one going to be patient with people who blather on and on and don't really say anything. Such people have to be reminded now and then that they are in the presence of others who have thoughts and feelings too! I wouldn't doubt that entire societies have declined and collapsed because a whole lot of people didn't know when to shut their silly mouths and just get on with it, whatever "it" was. That's probably what caused Rome to collapse. I suspect the Germans, for example, lost World War II primarily because Hitler just wouldn't SHUT UP long enough to pay attention to the real facts! It was a fatal mistake. That, and attacking Britain. We British always win in the end. Yes, we may lose a battle here and there, but we always win the last battle, don't we? Well, I must say that I sympathize with jOhn's problem, even though I've heard that he is a bit of a prat himself. Still, even utter prats deserve a moment of peace now and then, don't they?

TTFN,

* Veronica *


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Subject: RE: BS: People Talking Too Much
From: GUEST,JennyO
Date: 15 Jan 05 - 05:54 AM

I am trying to leave my workspace free

Except for all the bears, Sandra :-)


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Subject: RE: BS: People Talking Too Much
From: gnu
Date: 15 Jan 05 - 12:43 PM

Minds me of Foghorn Leghorn when told to shut up by his father, "... near starved to death... wouldn't tell 'im I was hungry !"


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Subject: RE: BS: People Talking Too Much
From: Little Hawk
Date: 15 Jan 05 - 12:52 PM

"even utter prats deserve a moment of peace now and then, don't they?"

That's very compassionate of you, Veronica. I think that jOhn would really enjoy having a chance to talk to someone like you now and then, instead of this "Grayum" character, who sounds pretty tedious, to say the least.

jOhn, here's my suggestion: Disagree violently with everything he says, and I do mean EVERYTHING. When he says he worked somewhere once... "No you didn't!" When he says he owned this or that car. "No you didn't!" When he says the weather is thus and so... "No it bloody isn't!" And so on...

He will probably go away after a bit.


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Subject: RE: BS: People Talking Too Much
From: gnu
Date: 15 Jan 05 - 12:58 PM

"Listen... I really don't want to go back to prison, but I'm seriously going to consider violating the conditions of my probation if you don't leave me alone."


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Subject: RE: BS: People Talking Too Much
From: Little Hawk
Date: 15 Jan 05 - 03:26 PM

You could also try drooling in his presence, jOhn, and rolling your eyes hideously...


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Subject: RE: BS: People Talking Too Much
From: dianavan
Date: 15 Jan 05 - 11:27 PM

Learn to sing this song and start singing it when he bothers you.

Joe Jones - You Talk Too Much

You talk too much, you worry me to death,
You talk too much, you even worry my pet
You just talk, talk, talk, talk
You talk too much

You talk about people that you don't know,
You talk about people wherever you go
You just talk, talk, talk, talk
You talk too much

You talk about people that you've never seen,
You talk about people, you can make me scream
You just talk, talk, talk, talk
You talk too much


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Subject: RE: BS: People Talking Too Much
From: Rt Revd Sir jOhn from Hull
Date: 15 Jan 05 - 11:34 PM

Hello,
got a plan, =
next time i work, i will take a stick with me, if he talks too much, i will hit him on the head with it.


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Subject: RE: BS: People Talking Too Much
From: Bee-dubya-ell
Date: 16 Jan 05 - 12:32 AM

Offer to show him your scab collection.


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Subject: RE: BS: People Talking Too Much
From: Rt Revd Sir jOhn from Hull
Date: 16 Jan 05 - 12:48 AM

I havent got a scab collection.


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Subject: RE: BS: People Talking Too Much
From: Bee-dubya-ell
Date: 16 Jan 05 - 01:18 AM

Get one.


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Subject: RE: BS: People Talking Too Much
From: Roger the Skiffler
Date: 16 Jan 05 - 03:34 AM

Give him a big wet kiss!

RtS


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Subject: RE: BS: People Talking Too Much
From: lady penelope
Date: 16 Jan 05 - 01:04 PM

Rarranging your work area (if possible) is the most effective (least likely to get you into trouble) method of dealing with these sorts of people.

Although it doesn't always work. I have to place orders over the phone and people frequently start yakking at me regardless of the fact that I'm trying to talk to someone on the other end of the phone. As I have a walk in cupboard of my own, I thought shutting and locking the door would be the perfect solution. One day, I locked the door and started placing my orders. Despite the "Do not disturb" sign, some one started knocking, then calling my name, then waggling the door handle. Finally they went and got the spare key and unlocked the door!!!!! And all she wanted was to tell me that she'd used the third to last set of OHP pens!!!!!! I gave her two whole minutes of precisely what I thought of her, but it was like water off a ducks back.

With some of these people you CANNOT WIN. If this appears to be the case, inform your boss of the problem and then simply vent your spleen at him. It may not solve the problem, but you don't feel so tense........

My sympathies John.

TTFN Lady P.


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Subject: RE: BS: People Talking Too Much
From: kindaloupehackenweez
Date: 16 Jan 05 - 11:57 PM

LOL LOL LOL You cats are way too much..

All responses giving were/are outstanding and possible solutions, LOL

Outside of having the overwhelming erge to choke the living crap out of the dude. Mention the quote of Winston Churchill (SBTS) that goes

"Its best to let others think that your a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt."

Or a more Physcological approach would be to respond to what he says by asking a question that dont pertain to nothing and look at him like you SERIOUSLY want to know the answer..

Or let him have it with both barrels and just say with a blank stare on your face.

"I know Charlie, Do you Know Charlie?, Charlie wants to get to know you!"

If any of the earlier seinairos dont work try these if these dont work, please post what does otherwise Im afraid hes gotta go!!

Stay free and be happy. Kindaloupehackenweez...PEACE.


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Subject: RE: BS: People Talking Too Much
From: GUEST,yeh
Date: 10 Feb 05 - 08:27 PM

go stuf urself


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Subject: RE: BS: People Talking Too Much
From: GUEST,Wayne Wang
Date: 10 Feb 05 - 08:29 PM

Veronica talks too much


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Subject: RE: BS: People Talking Too Much
From: GUEST,yeh
Date: 10 Feb 05 - 08:31 PM

Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.


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Subject: RE: BS: People Talking Too Much
From: GUEST,no
Date: 10 Feb 05 - 08:38 PM

Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
vAffirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Affirmative Action Timeline
[ Complete Timeline... ]

March 6, 1961
Executive Order 10925 makes the first mention of "affirmative action"...

July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson...

June 4, 1965
Johnson speech defining concept of affirmative action...

Sept. 24, 1965
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time...

June 28, 1978
Regents of the University of California v. Blake...

July 2, 1980
Fullilove s. Klutznick...

May 19, 1986
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education...

Feb. 25, 1987
United States v. Paradise...

Jan. 23, 1989
City of Richmond v. Croson...

July 19, 1995
White House guidelines on affirmative action...

March 18, 1996
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School...

Nov. 3, 1997
Proposition 209 enacted in California...

June 23, 2003
The Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered...




[ Complete Timeline... ]

In its tumultuous 40-year history, affirmative action has been both praised and pilloried as an answer to racial inequality. The policy was introduced in 1965 by President Johnson as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."

A Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field


Focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that blacks and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been the nearly exclusive province of whites. From the outset, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once there was a "level playing field" for all Americans.

Bakke and Reverse Discrimination


By the late '70s, however, flaws in the policy began to show up amid its good intentions. Reverse discrimination became an issue, epitomized by the famous Bakke case in 1978. Allan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants—the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. The Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unfairly discriminated against a white applicant. In the same ruling, however, the Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se.

A Zero-Sum Game for Conservatives


Fueled by "angry white men," a backlash against affirmative action began to mount. To conservatives, the system was a zero-sum game that opened the door for jobs, promotions, or education to minorities while it shut the door on whites. In a country that prized the values of self-reliance and pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, conservatives resented the idea that some unqualified minorities were getting a free ride on the American system. "Preferential treatment" and "quotas" became expressions of contempt. Even more contentious was the accusation that some minorities enjoyed playing the role of professional victim. Why could some minorities who had also experienced terrible adversity and racism—Jews and Asians, in particular—manage to make the American way work for them without government handouts?

"Justice and Freedom for All" Still in Its Infancy


Liberals countered that "the land of opportunity" was a very different place for the European immigrants who landed on its shores than it was for those who arrived in the chains of slavery. As historian Roger Wilkins pointed out, "blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else."



Blacks have a 375-year history on this continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving discrimination, and only 30 involving anything else.

—Historian Roger Wilkins

      
Considering that Jim Crow laws and lynching existed well into the '60s, and that myriad subtler forms of racism in housing, employment, and education persisted well beyond the civil rights movement, conservatives impatient for blacks to "get over" the legacy of slavery needed to realize that slavery was just the beginning of racism in America. Liberals also pointed out that another popular conservative argument—that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites—belied the reality that white men were still the undisputed rulers of the roost when it came to salaries, positions, and prestige.

Black-and-White Polemics Turn Gray



Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that there are no airtight, completely coherent, unassailable, and holistic answers on the question of affirmative action

—John Bunzel, president of San Jose State Univ.
   
The debate about affirmative action has also grown more murky and difficult as the public has come to appreciate its complexity. Many liberals, for example, can understand the injustice of affirmative action in a case like Wygant (1986): black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. And many conservatives would be hard pressed to come up with a better alternative to the imposition of a strict quota system in Paradise (1987), in which the defiantly racist Alabama Department of Public Safety refused to promote any black above entry level even after a full 12 years of court orders demanded they did.

The Supreme Court: Wary of "Abstractions Going Wrong"


The Supreme Court justices have been divided in their opinions in affirmative action cases, partially because of opposing political ideologies but also because the issue is simply so complex. The Court has approached most of the cases in a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole.

Even in Bakke—the closest thing to a landmark affirmative action case—the Court was split 5-4, and the judges' various opinions were far more nuanced than most glosses of the case indicate. Sandra Day O'Connor, often characterized as the pivotal judge in such cases because she straddles conservative and liberal views about affirmative action, has been described by University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as "nervous about rules and abstractions going wrong. She's very alert to the need for the Court to depend on the details of each case."



Landmark Ruling Buttresses Affirmative Action

RELATED LINKS
Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Setbacks

Black History Month

But in a landmark 2003 case involving the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies—one of the most important rulings on the issue in twenty-five years—the Supreme Court decisively upheld the right of affirmative action in higher education. Two cases, first tried in federal courts in 2000 and 2001, were involved: the University of Michigan's undergraduate program (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). The Supreme Court (5–4) upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." The Supreme Court, however, ruled (6–3) that the more formulaic approach of the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rate students and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate program, unlike the law school's, did not provide the "individualized consideration" of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action.

In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court ruled that although affirmative action was no longer justified as a way of redressing past oppression and injustice, it promoted a "compelling state interest" in diversity at all levels of society. A record number of "friend-of-court" briefs were filed in support of Michigan's affirmative action case by hundreds of organizations representing academia, business, labor unions, and the military, arguing the benefits of broad racial representation. As Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority, "In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity."


Bibliography and Links
Historic Supreme Court Decisions
Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
For summaries and the complete text of all Supreme Court decision referred to in the article.

"Re-rethinking Affirmative Action," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, April 5, 1998

"A Case on Race Puts Justice O'Connor in a Familiar Pivotal Role," Linda Greenhouse
The New York Times, August 4, 1997

"On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers a Bumpy Course," Steven A. Holmes
The New York Times, October 20, 1996




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Feature Archive Daily Almanac
Did you know? In 1870 Jefferson Long became the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.


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Subject: RE: BS: People Talking Too Much
From: ossonflags
Date: 11 Feb 05 - 04:57 AM

john, he could be a very lonely person you should really try to be little more tolerant.However, he sounds to me he is a right boring bastard, so just tell him to "fuck of", it is a lot less painfull in the long term


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Subject: RE: BS: People Talking Too Much
From: Liz the Squeak
Date: 11 Feb 05 - 05:50 AM

Guests Yeh and no have obviously a) not read the suggestions that huge amounts are not cut and pasted into threads and b) suffer from verbal diaorrhea themselves.

LTS


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Subject: RE: BS: People Talking Too Much
From: *Laura*
Date: 11 Feb 05 - 04:29 PM

flirt with him. very obviously.


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Subject: RE: BS: People Talking Too Much
From: Cluin
Date: 11 Feb 05 - 09:02 PM

One from The Frantics (listen to the "Pie" sketch too):


People talking in movie shows
People smoking in bed
People voting Republican
Give them a boot to the head

Boot to the head! Nyah Nyah
Boot to the head! Nyah Nyah
Boot to the head! Nyah Nyah
Boot to the head! Nyah Nyah...

Mechanics who can't fix a car
Politicians who can't think
The salesman who won't leave me alone
The waiter who forgot my drink
Give them a boot to the head

Boot to the head! Nyah Nyah
Boot to the head! Nyah Nyah
Boot to the head! Nyah Nyah
Boot to the head! Nyah Nyah

BOOT   TO   THE   HEAD!


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Subject: RE: BS: People Talking Too Much
From: Teresa
Date: 11 Feb 05 - 09:23 PM

This guy was really coming on strong to me once, so my best female friend put her arm around me and said, "Come on, honey, let's go have a hot time with each other." He'd said anti-gay stuff to us before, so this made him go away in a hurry. :)

Teresa


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Subject: RE: BS: People Talking Too Much
From: LadyJean
Date: 11 Feb 05 - 11:58 PM

Some people, I think have some sort of mental problem. They aren't aware of how their actions affect other people, or else they don't care, and they simply can't stop talking.
Now I know a woman with borderline personality disorder, borlderlines tend to be motormouths. She'd call me three or four times a day to talk about nothing. Eventually I just started being rude, unpleasant, disagreeable, and bitchy. She stopped. We remain friends, after a fashion. But she quit her constant phoning.


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