Timeline of Affirmative Action Milestones
[ Read more about the history of affirmative action ]
by Borgna Brunner http://www.infoplease.com/spot/affirmativetimeline1.html
1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s
Executive Order 10925 makes the first reference to "affirmative action"
March 6, President John F. Kennedy issues Executive Order 10925, which creates the
1961 Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity and mandates that projects financed
with federal funds "take affirmative action" to ensure that hiring and employment
practices are free of racial bias.
Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson
1964 The most sweeping civil rights legislation since Reconstruction, the Civil Rights Act
prohibits discrimination of all kinds based on race, color, religion, or national origin.
Speech defining concept of affirmative action
In an eloquent speech to the graduating class at Howard University, President
Johnson frames the concept underlying affirmative action, asserting that civil rights
laws alone are not enough to remedy discrimination:
"You do not wipe away the scars of centuries by saying: 'now, you are free to go
where you want, do as you desire, and choose the leaders you please.' You do not
1965 take a man who for years has been hobbled by chains, liberate him, bring him to the
starting line of a race, saying, 'you are free to compete with all the others,' and still
justly believe you have been completely fair . . . This is the next and more profound
stage of the battle for civil rights. We seek not just freedom but opportunity—not
just legal equity but human ability—not just equality as a right and a theory, but
equality as a fact and as a result."
Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time
Issued by President Johnson, the executive order requires government contractors to
"take affirmative action" toward prospective minority employees in all aspects of
1965 hiring and employment. Contractors must take specific measures to ensure equality
in hiring and must document these efforts. On Oct. 13, 1967, the order was
amended to cover discrimination on the basis of gender.
The Philadelphia Order
Initiated by President Richard Nixon, the "Philadelphia Order" was the most forceful
plan thus far to guarantee fair hiring practices in construction jobs. Philadelphia was
selected as the test case because, as assistant secretary of labor Arthur Fletcher
1969 explained, "The craft unions and the construction industry are among the most
egregious offenders against equal opportunity laws . . . openly hostile toward letting
blacks into their closed circle." The order included definite "goals and timetables." As
President Nixon asserted, "We would not impose quotas, but would require federal
contractors to show 'affirmative action' to meet the goals of increasing minority
June 28, Regents of the University of California v. Bakke
This landmark Supreme Court case imposed limitations on affirmative action to
ensure that providing greater opportunities for minorities did not come at the
expense of the rights of the majority—affirmative action was unfair if it led to
reverse discrimination. The case involved the Univ. of California, Davis, Medical
School, which had two separate admissions pools, one for standard applicants, and
another for minority and economically disadvantaged students. The school reserved
16 of its 100 places for this latter group.
Allan Bakke, a white applicant, was rejected twice even though there were minority
applicants admitted with significantly lower scores than his. Bakke maintained that
judging him on the basis of his race was a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of
the Fourteenth Amendment. The Supreme Court ruled that while race was a
legitimate factor in school admissions, the use of such inflexible quotas as the
medical school had set aside was not. The Supreme Court, however, was split 5–4 in
its decision on the Bakke case and addressed only a minimal number of the many
complex issues that had sprung up about affirmative action.
Fullilove v. Klutznick
While Bakke struck down strict quotas, in Fullilove the Supreme Court ruled that
some modest quotas were perfectly constitutional. The Court upheld a federal law
requiring that 15% of funds for public works be set aside for qualified minority
1980 contractors. The "narrowed focus and limited extent" of the affirmative action
program did not violate the equal rights of non-minority contractors, according to
the Court—there was no "allocation of federal funds according to inflexible
percentages solely based on race or ethnicity."
Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education
This case challenged a school board's policy of protecting minority employees by
laying off non-minority teachers first, even though the non-minority employees had
seniority. The Supreme Court ruled against the school board, maintaining that the
May 19, injury suffered by non-minorities affected could not justify the benefits to minorities:
1986 "We have previously expressed concern over the burden that a preferential-layoffs
scheme imposes on innocent parties. In cases involving valid hiring goals, the
burden to be borne by innocent individuals is diffused to a considerable extent
among society generally. Though hiring goals may burden some innocent individuals,
they simply do not impose the same kind of injury that layoffs impose. Denial of a
future employment opportunity is not as intrusive as loss of an existing job."
United States v. Paradise
In July 1970, a federal court found that the State of Alabama Department of Public
Safety systematically discriminated against blacks in hiring: "in the thirty-seven-year
history of the patrol there has never been a black trooper." The court ordered that
the state reform its hiring practices to end "pervasive, systematic, and obstinate
Feb. 25, discriminatory exclusion of blacks." A full 12 years and several lawsuits later, the
1987 department still had not promoted any blacks above entry level nor had they
implemented a racially fair hiring system. In response, the court ordered specific
racial quotas to correct the situation. For every white hired or promoted, one black
would also be hired or promoted until at least 25% of the upper ranks of the
department were composed of blacks. This use of numerical quotas was challenged.
The Supreme Court, however, upheld the use of strict quotas in this case as one of
the only means of combating the department's overt and defiant racism.
City of Richmond v. Croson
This case involved affirmative action programs at the state and local levels—a
Richmond program setting aside 30% of city construction funds for black-owned
firms was challenged. For the first time, affirmative action was judged as a "highly
suspect tool." The Supreme Court ruled that an "amorphous claim that there has
been past discrimination in a particular industry cannot justify the use of an
unyielding racial quota." It maintained that affirmative action must be subject to
1989 "strict scrutiny" and is unconstitutional unless racial discrimination can be proven to
be "widespread throughout a particular industry." The Court maintained that "the
purpose of strict scrutiny is to `smoke out' illegitimate uses of race by assuring that
the legislative body is pursuing a goal important enough to warrant use of a highly
suspect tool. The test also ensures that the means chosen `fit' this compelling goal
so closely that there is little or no possibility that the motive for the classification was
illegitimate racial prejudice or stereotype."
Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Peña
What Croson was to state- and local-run affirmative action programs, Adarand was
to federal programs. The Court again called for "strict scrutiny" in determining
whether discrimination existed before implementing a federal affirmative action
June 12, program. "Strict scrutiny" meant that affirmative action programs fulfilled a
1995 "compelling governmental interest," and were "narrowly tailored" to fit the particular
situation. Although two of the judges (Scalia and Thomas) felt that there should be a
complete ban on affirmative action, the majority of judges asserted that "the
unhappy persistence of both the practice and the lingering effects of racial
discrimination against minority groups in this country" justified the use of race-based
remedial measures in certain circumstances.
White House guidelines on affirmative action
President Clinton asserted in a speech that while Adarand set "stricter standards to
mandate reform of affirmative action, it actually reaffirmed the need for affirmative
action and reaffirmed the continuing existence of systematic discrimination in the
1995 United States." In a White House memorandum on the same day, he called for the
elimination of any program that "(a) creates a quota; (b) creates preferences for
unqualified individuals; (c) creates reverse discrimination; or (d) continues even
after its equal opportunity purposes have been achieved."
Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School
Cheryl Hopwood and three other white law-school applicants at the University of
Texas challenged the school's affirmative action program, asserting that they were
rejected because of unfair preferences toward less qualified minority applicants. As a
result, the 5th U.S. Court of Appeals suspended the university's affirmative action
admissions program and ruled that the 1978 Bakke decision was invalid—while
Bakke rejected racial quotas it maintained that race could serve as a factor in
admissions. In addition to remedying past discrimination, Bakke maintained that the
1996 inclusion of minority students would create a diverse student body, and that was
beneficial to the educational environment as a whole. Hopwood, however, rejected
the legitimacy of diversity as a goal, asserting that "educational diversity is not
recognized as a compelling state interest." The Supreme Court allowed the ruling to
stand. In 1997, the Texas Attorney General announced that all "Texas public
universities [should] employ race-neutral criteria."
Note: The June 23, 2003, Supreme Court ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger invalidates
Proposition 209 enacted in California
A state ban on all forms of affirmative action was passed in California: "The state
Nov. 3, shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or
1997 group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of
public employment, public education, or public contracting." Proposed in 1996, the
controversial ban had been delayed in the courts for almost a year before it went
Initiative 200 enacted in Washington State
1998 Washington becomes the second state to abolish state affirmative action measures
when it passed "I 200," which is similar to California's Proposition 209.
Florida bans race as factor in college admissions.
2000 Florida legislature approves education component of Gov. Jeb Bush's "One Florida"
initiative, aimed at ending affirmative action in the state.
University of Michigan’s undergrad affirmative action policy
In Gratz v. Bollinger, a federal judge ruled that the use of race as a factor in
Dec. 13, admissions at the University of Michigan was constitutional. The gist of the
2000 university's argument was as follows: just as preference is granted to children of
alumni, scholarship athletes, and others groups for reasons deemed beneficial to the
university, so too does the affirmative action program serve "a compelling interest"
by providing educational benefits derived from a diverse student body.
Univ. of Michigan Law School's affirmative action policy
In Grutter v. Bollinger, a case similar to the University of Michigan undergraduate
lawsuit, a different judge drew an opposite conclusion, invalidating the law school's
2001 policy and ruling that "intellectual diversity bears no obvious or necessary
relationship to racial diversity." But on May 14, 2002, the decision was reversed on
appeal, ruling that the admissions policy was, in fact, constitutional.
Supreme Court Upholds Affirmative Action in University Admissions
In the most important affirmative action decision since the 1978 Bakke case, the
Supreme Court (5-4) upholds 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
2003 undergraduate admissions program, which uses a point system that rates students
and awards additional points to minorities, had to be modified. The undergraduate
program, unlike the law school's, does not provide the "individualized consideration"
of applicants deemed necessary in previous Supreme Court decisions on affirmative
See Grutter v. Bollinger.