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Affirmative Action

Employment programs required by federal statutes and regulations designed to remedy discriminatory practices in hiring minority group members; i.e., positive steps designed to eliminate existing and continuing discrimination, to remedy lingering effects of past discrimination, and to create systems and procedures to prevent future discrimination; commonly based on population percentages of minority groups in a particular area. Factors considered are race, color, sex, creed, and age.

The idea of affirmative action was foreshadowed as early as the Reconstruction Era, which followed the U.S. Civil War. When that conflict ended, the former slave population throughout the South owned virtually nothing and had only a limited set of skills with which they could make a living. To help these newly emancipated citizens sustain a minimal economic base, the victorious General William T. Sherman proposed to divide up the land and goods from the sizable plantations of southeastern Georgia that were under his command and grant to each family of color "40 acres and a mule." The proposal ran into powerful political opposition, however, and it was never widely adopted.

Nearly a century later, this idea of assisting whole classes of individuals to gain access to the goods of U.S. life reemerged in U.S. law and society through a series of court decisions and political initiatives interpreting the Civil Rights guarantees within the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. These decisions and initiatives came to be known as affirmative action.

The term itself refers to both mandatory and voluntary programs intended to affirm the civil rights of designated classes of individuals by taking positive action to protect them from, in the words of Justice william j. brennan jr., "the lingering effects of pervasive discrimination" (Local 28 of the Sheet Metal Workers' Int'l Assoc.v. EEOC, 478 U.S. 421, 106 S. Ct. 3019, 92 L. Ed. 2d 344 [1986]). A law school, for example, might voluntarily take affirmative action to find and admit qualified students of color. An employer might recruit qualified women where only men have worked before, such as businesses that operate heavy equipment.

Affirmative action developed during the four decades following the decision in brown v. board of education, 347 U.S. 483, 74 S. Ct. 686, 98 L. Ed. 873 (1954). In Brown, the Supreme Court held that public school Segregation of children by race denied minority children equal educational opportunities, rejecting the doctrine of "separate but equal" in the public education context. During the 1960s and early 1970s, the Civil Rights Movement as well as the Vietnam War inspired members of minorities and women to advocate collectively for increased equality and opportunity within U.S. society. These groups appealed for equal rights under the Fourteenth Amendment, and they sought opportunity in the public arenas of education and employment. In many ways, they were successful. As affirmative action grew, however, it drew increasing criticism, often from men and whites, who opposed what they viewed as "reverse discrimination."

While the Brown decision declared segregated schools unlawful, it did not create affirmative action to remedy discriminatory practices. A decade after Brown, little had changed to integrate the nation's schools. The Court acted ahead of business executives and legislatures when it mandated, in Green v. County School Board, 391 U.S. 430, 88 S. Ct. 1689, 20 L. Ed. 2d 716 (1968), that positive actions must be taken to integrate schools. There followed the adoption of an array of devices such as redistricting, majority-to-minority transfers, school pairings, magnet schools, busing, new construction, and abandonment of all-black schools.

The first major legal setback for voluntary affirmation action was regents of the university of california v. bakke, 438 U.S. 265, 98 S. Ct. 2733, 57 L. Ed. 2d 750 (1978), in which the Supreme Court struck down an admission plan at the University of California, Davis, medical school. The plan, which had set aside 16 places for minority applicants, was challenged by white applicant Allan Bakke, who had been refused admission even though he had higher test scores than some of the minority applicants. The Court held that by setting aside a specific number, or quota, of places by race, the school had violated Bakke's civil rights. By denying the "set-aside" practice of an affirmative action plan, the decision seemed to threaten the principle underlying affirmative action as well.

The following year, however, the Court found in united steelworkers v. weber, 443U.S. 193, 99 S. Ct. 2721, 61 L. Ed. 2d 480 (1979), that the voluntary plan of Kaiser Aluminum Company to promote some of its black workers into a special training program ahead of more senior white workers did not violate the latter's civil rights when it did not involve quotas. The Court also found in Local 28 of Sheet Metal Workers' International Ass'n v. EEOC, 478 U.S. 421, 106 S. Ct. 3019, 92 L. Ed. 2d 344 (1986), that rights were not being violated by a court-ordered membership goal of 29.23 percent minorities. Writing for the plurality, Justice Brennan said Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not prohibit courts from ordering "affirmative race-conscious relief as a remedy for past discrimination" in appropriate circumstances. Such circumstances might include "where an employer or Labor Union has engaged in persistent or egregious discrimination, or where necessary to dissipate the lingering effect of pervasive discrimination."

The Court later found, in City of Richmondv. J. A. Croson Co., 488 U.S. 469, 109 S. Ct. 706, 102 L. Ed. 2d 854 (1989), that the Minority Business Utilization Plan of Richmond, Virginia, violated the rights of private contractors. The plan, which required 30 percent of all subcontracts to be awarded to minority-owned companies, was struck down because this municipality had failed to show compelling state interest for such a measure. The Court applied the compelling interest test after holding that race-based action by state and local government was subject to Strict Scrutiny. The Court extended this to the federal government in Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Pena, 115 S. Ct. 2097, 132 L. Ed. 2d 158 (1995).

In Johnson v. Transportation Agency, 480 U.S. 616, 107 S. Ct. 1442, 94 L. Ed. 2d 615 (1987), the Court ruled that a county agency had not violated Title VII of the civil rights act when, as part of an affirmative action plan, it took a female employee's gender into account in promoting her ahead of a male employee with a slightly higher test score. The Court held that a "manifest imbalance" existed in this workforce because of an under representation of women, and that the employer had acted properly in using a "moderate, flexible, case-by-case approach to effecting a gradual improvement in the representation of minorities and women."

At issue in affirmative action cases is whether the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment can be employed to advance the welfare of one class of individuals for compelling social reasons even when that advancement may infringe in some way upon the life or liberty of another. The continuing existence of affirmative action laws and programs suggests that so far, the Supreme Court's answer has been yes.

Affirmative action plans may be undertaken voluntarily, as in the case of a private school's admissions goals; imposed by the courts to protect civil rights; or required by law to qualify for federal contracts. Plans required to qualify for federal contracts are enforced by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), an agency of the U.S. Labor Department. The OFCCP defines its mission with its critics in mind: "Affirmative action is not preferential treatment. Nor does it mean that unqualified persons should be hired or promoted over other people. What affirmative action does mean is that positive steps must be taken to provide equal employment opportunity" (EEOC, U.S. Labor Department, Pub. No. 2850, Making EEO and Affirmative Action Work 8 [1993]). One ranking OFCCP administrator defended the program even more sharply by saying,"Affirmative action is not about goals and has nothing to do with preferences. It is about inclusion versus exclusion: people who have been excluded from participation in the process for years are now to be included."

Affirmation action plans are subject to mandatory compliance procedures, which may include monitoring by review, conciliation of disputes, exclusion from federal contract work, or even suit by the Justice Department.

Criticism of affirmative action has been constant since the Supreme Court first articulated its views. By the 1990s, opponents began to press the Court to reverse its precedents both in employment and in higher education admission policies. Supporters of affirmative action openly worried that the Court would severely restrict affirmative action. For example, in 1997, the Court was scheduled to hear an appeal involving a New Jersey schoolteacher who claimed she had suffered discrimination because of an improper affirmative action plan (Taxman v. Piscataway Township Bd. of Educ., 91 F.3d 1547 [3d. Cir. 1996]). Weeks before oral argument, supporters of affirmative action made the schoolteacher a financial settlement in return for her dismissing the case. They admitted that this was hardly a victory, but supporters pointed to troubling developments.

One of these developments was the Supreme Court's refusal to review a decision that struck down a university admission plan that used race as one factor for acceptance. In Hopwood v. Texas, 78 F. 3d. 932 (5th Cir. 1996), the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the practice of providing preferential treatment to minorities in a public university's admissions policy was repugnant to the Constitution.

How Much Affirmative Action Is Enough Affirmative Action?

In the combustive debate over affirmative action, fairness is the hottest issue of all. Most people agree that employers should hire and promote people fairly. Does affirmative action make this happen? Americans disagree sharply: a July 1995 Associated Press poll found that 39 percent think it does, but 48 percent said giving preference to women and minorities produces even greater unfairness. These numbers barely scratch the surface of the antagonisms in a debate now more than thirty years old. Proponents argue that the benefits of affirmative action policies are tangible, deserved, and necessary. Opponents reply that these benefits hide the real harm done by affirmative action: rewarding the wrong people, devaluing the idea of merit, and punishing white men. The two sides disagree on what should be done, yet there is no shortage of ideas. In the 1990s, a flurry of arguments have come from politicians, academics, civil rights leaders, and reformers that are aimed at preserving, modifying, or ending affirmative action.

History has drastically rewritten the terms of this debate. In the years of great advances in federal civil rights, Presidents john f. kennedy and lyndon b. johnson could easily frame the issue as a purely moral one. Johnson put it this way in 1965:

Freedom is not enough…. You do not take a man who for years has been hobbled by chains, liberate him, bring him to the starting line of a race, saying,"you are free to compete with all the others," and still justly believe you have been completely fair. Thus it is not enough to open the gates of opportunity.

Thirty years later, Senate majority leader bob dole (RKan.) made this widely quoted attack: "The race-counting game has gone too far." Polls indicate that both Johnson and Dole spoke for a majority of citizens of their time. Johnson captured the essence of a nation willing to move beyond the legacy of Jim Crow Laws. Dole summoned the resentment of white males who had seen the affirmative action net expand to hold not only minorities but also women and immigrants. But white men are hardly the only complainers: according to a March 1995 Washington Post-ABC News poll, 79 percent of middle-class white women oppose preferences for women.

For affirmative action's strongest supporters, explaining the new harshness in the policy's politics is a matter of going back to the beginning. They point out that affirmative action was never supposed to be painless. Making room for groups that have historically suffered discrimination means that the very group that did not suffer—white males—now has to do so. This can be characterized as the sins-of-the-fathers argument, illustrated in a 1995 briefing paper from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU): "[W]hile it's true that white males in any given era may not all have been responsible for excluding people of color and women, all white males have benefited unjustly from that historical exclusion … [thus enjoying] privileged status and an unfair advantage." This position is supported by statistics: in 1995 white males held nearly 95 percent of senior management positions in major corporations, earned 25 to 45 percent more than women and minorities, and held well over 80 percent of the seats in Congress. On the other hand, from 1973 to 1993, black poverty increased from 31.4 to 33.1 percent. Without doubt, discrimination continues; from the perspective of supporters of affirmative action, the sins of the fathers are far from paid for.

Because equality still eludes the beneficiaries of affirmative action, supporters dismiss attacks on the policies as part of a backlash. Three decades of advances for affirmative action's beneficiaries have meant diminished dominance for white men, a group whose income has been falling in real terms since 1973. But, supporters say, the reason white men earn less today than their fathers did is not the fault of affirmative action. They point to long-term changes in the U.S. economy and job market as the real explanations for stagnating incomes, diminishing buying power, and decreasing job security. Yet affirmative action gets the blame."We are the ultimate scapegoat for whatever goes wrong," Mary Frances Berry, chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, told the Boston Globe in 1995. Dwindling support from middle-class white women also draws the ire of affirmative action's advocates. "In the 1970s and 80s, white women had no problem hitching up to the affirmative action banner of 'women and minorities'," journalist Derrick Z. Jackson wrote. "If they now want to rip down the banner, it will confirm the dirtiest little secret of all about affirmative action"—that white women supported it only to the extent that it benefited themselves.

Dismissing these explanations as excuses, critics of affirmative action denounce it as "reverse discrimination." They either reject outright the idea that historical wrongs can be redressed through contemporary means, or believe that the cost to those who must pay for such redress is too high. Conservative think tanks such as the Institute for Justice and the Heritage Foundation regularly lead this prong of the attack. Clint Bolick, the Institute for Justice's vice president, told Congressional Quarterly, "If you add up the number of people who have encountered reverse discrimination in college admissions, scholarships, public school magnet programs, government contracts and jobs in the private and public sectors, you have a pretty sizable population." The charge strikes the strongest advocates of affirmative action as insupportable. According to the research of law professor Alfred Blumrosen, of Rutgers University, only a few dozen such cases reached the federal courts in the early 1990s, and in most, the plaintiff failed. Other advocates see the reverse discrimination argument as sour grapes; the ACLU goes so far as to call it a smoke screen "for retention of white male privilege."

Critics frequently argue that affirmative action does an injustice to the idea of merit. Organizations representing police officers and firefighters, such as the national Fraternal Order of Police, complain that qualifications and standards have fallen to accommodate affirmative action candidates. This criticism is popular not only with whites, who have long claimed that better qualified candidates lose out as a result of affirmative action, but also with two leading conservative African American critics. "What we've had to do for 25 years to pull off affirmative action," the author Shelby Steele said, "is demean the idea of merit." The economist Thomas Sowell advances much the same argument in his claim that the policy hurts African Americans. Like other conservatives, Sowell ties the rise of affirmative action in the 1970s to the development of the black economic underclass. Steele and Sowell have argued that affirmative action sets up its beneficiaries for failure, corrupting the value of achievement for blacks and reinforcing racist stereotypes for whites. Viewing affirmative action as antidemocratic, they conclude that individual qualities alone should determine who is hired or accepted into an academic program.

Advocates are highly suspicious of the merit argument. In the first place, they deny that creating opportunities ignores the value of personal merit. Voluntary affirmative action merely gives people who traditionally have been excluded a leg up, they assert; and when it is court ordered to redress a pattern of workplace discrimination, the question of merit misses the point. More crucially, supporters think the merit line is superficial. Political commentator Michael E. Kinsley quipped that critics "seem to imagine that everyone in America can be ranked with scientific precision, from No. 1 to No. 260,000,000, in terms of his or her qualification for any desirable career opportunity." He and other supporters consider the argument specious in a society in which merit is often the last reason for success and other variables that give advantages to certain groups are deemed perfectly natural—the children of the rich attend the best schools regardless of their abilities, for example, and military veterans receive preferences whether or not they have personally sacrificed anything for the nation. The United States was never a meritocracy, asserts Laura Murphy Lee, director of the ACLU's national legislative office: "Affirmative action didn't come along to taint a process that never existed."

Proposals for reforming affirmative action became increasingly popular in the mid-1990s. At one extreme, politicians have called for dumping it altogether. This idea has been urged in Congress chiefly by ultraconservative Republicans such as Senators Phil Gramm (R-Tex.) and jesse helms(R-N.C.). Although no action has been taken on the congressional level, similar proposals in the states of California and Florida have gained ground. California reformers scored two victories in the mid-1990s: First, in 1995, regents of the University of California dropped gender- and race-based admissions, hiring, and contracting. Then, reformers succeeded in passing an anti-affirmative action Referendum—the California Civil Rights Initiative, a measure that would outlaw gender- and race-based preferences in government programs—in 1996. A similar referendum passed in Washington State in 1998.

Less radical and perhaps more politically feasible, another proposal calls for preserving affirmative action while shifting its emphasis. The idea would abandon race and gender as yardsticks and match preferences solely with economic need. Conservatives again lead this campaign, but it draws some support even from moderates: President bill clinton, declaring that his administration was against quotas and guaranteed results, ordered a review of federal employment policies in 1995 to ensure that they were being applied fairly. Critics of affirmative action believe that this kind of reform would ensure opportunity for disadvantaged people while ending what they see as egregious abuses, such as the awarding of contracts to rich minority-owned businesses. Traditional supporters agree that affirmative action benefits do not always help the people who most need them. But they believe that substantial gains should not be reversed, and that any need-based measurement should only augment—not replace—existing policies.

The journey of affirmative action from its heyday to the present reflects great changes in the United States. Between the administration of President Johnson and the Republican-controlled Congress elected in 1994 lies a thirty-year experience with Great Society initiatives that has left many citizens soured on the idea of government assistance. Radical changes in the nation's economy and workforce have surely not made the journey any easier. Bridging this gap seems unlikely, given the vastly different history of white males on the one hand, and women and people of color on the other. From these two poles of experience, two opposing ideas of necessity emerge. Critics say the time is ripe to overhaul affirmative action, a well-intentioned policy gone bad. Supporters, perceiving a playing field that is still far from level, maintain that the real work of affirmative action has scarcely begun.

In recent years, the battlefield for affirmative action has shifted from the workplace to education. Higher education—the arena that gave birth to regents of univ. of cal. v. bakke, 438 U.S. 265, 98 S. Ct. 2733, 57 L. Ed. 2d 750 (1978), the first significant Supreme Court decision endorsing affirmative action—has more recently produced a mishmash of court decisions and laws that have called into question the future of affirmative action. There were arguments not just how Bakke should be applied, but whether it should be applied at all.

Higher education has been a particularly contentious area on affirmative action for many reasons. Because many higher education institutions are public, there is an issue of whether taxpayer money should be going to institutions supporting affirmative action. The public status of Colleges and Universities also ensures that affirmative action debates will be conducted out in the open. Also, the quality and prestige of a college or university is often seen as determining where someone will end up on the socioeconomic scale after graduation, making the affirmative action stakes at such institutions high.

In a reversal of the way they tolerated discrimination through most of the 20th century, many colleges and universities now seem anxious to employ affirmative action to increase the diversity of their campuses. Court cases litigating affirmative action in higher education are brought by disgruntled white students and parents claiming "reverse discrimination." It has been the courts and the legislatures, not the colleges and the universities, that have shown willingness to put the brakes on affirmative action.

The battle over Bakke and its effects on higher education swung into focus in 1996, when the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down affirmative action in college admissions in their decision Hopwood v. Texas, 78 F.3d 932, 5th Cir. (Tex. 1996). The decision covered institutions in the states of Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Within a year of that ruling, enrollments by minorities in higher education institutions dropped in all three states.

In response, the state of Texas guaranteed a place in a state university or college to anyone who had graduated in the top 10 percent of their class. This gave more minorities a chance, and as a result minority enrollment at higher education institutions in the state was higher in 2001 than it was in the year before Hopwood. Several other states, including California and Florida, have adopted versions of Texas's "10 percent" solution. Critics have charged that these programs are inadequate, failing to ensure that minorities are represented at the most prestigious institutions even when they do boost enrollment in state university systems overall.

In 2002, the affirmative action focus in higher education shifted to the University of Michigan. White applicants to its undergraduate school and its law school sued on reverse discrimination grounds. A U.S. district judge in Michigan upheld the undergraduate procedure, but another struck down the law school process. On appeal, a divided Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of both admissions polices. The U.S Supreme Court agreed to hear appeals of each decision. The administration of george w. bush filed a brief opposing these programs."The method used by the University of Michigan to achieve this important goal is fundamentally flawed," said the statement from President Bush. Defending the policy, Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman said "[President Bush] misunderstands how our admission process works" and denied it was unconstitutional. On June 23, 2003, the Court ruled 6-3 against the under graduate policy because it made each candidate's race the "deciding" factor but uphead 5-4 the law school's process because a compelling state interest exists for universities to create racially diverse campuses.

Further readings

Buchanan, Sidney. 2002. "Affirmative Action: The Many Shades of Justice." Houston Law Review 39 (summer).

"Coloring the Campus." 2001. Time Magazine (September 17).

Goldstein, Amy, and Dana Milbank. 2003. "Bush Joins Admissions Case Fight; U-Mich. Use of Race Is Called 'Divisive'." Washington Post (January 16).

The University of Texas Law School implemented an admissions policy in which the standards for admission were lowered for minorities. The school employed an index (called the Texas Index, or TI) that combined standardized test scores with grade point averages. A minimum score for acceptance was ten points higher for whites than for non-whites. The appeals court found problems with the structure of the TI. While minorities, specifically African Americans and Mexican Americans, earned scores sufficient to be categorized as "presumptive admits" (certain to be accepted), whites that received the same scores were categorized as "presumptive denials" (certain to be rejected). The court invalidated the admissions policy, concluding that using race as a criteria for admissions is as Arbitrary as using one's blood type.

In Grutter v. Bollinger, ___U.S.___, 123 S.Ct. 2325, 156 L.Ed.2d 304, 2003 WL 21433492 (U.S., Jun 23, 2003) (NO. 02-241), the U.S. Supreme Court narrowly endorsed the use of race in choosing students for America's top universities and the concept of racial diversity as a compelling governmental interest. In a landmark decision with wide-ranging implications for affirmative action programs across the United States, the Court ruled that it does not violate the Equal Protection Clause to give some preferential treatment to disadvantaged minorities, calling the diversity that minorities bring to education, business, and the military necessary for the cultivation of "a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry." But the victory for affirmative action was conditional, as the Court emphasized that racial preferences should be a temporary rather than permanent fixture in American society, and called for "periodic reviews" and "sunset provisions" for race-conscious admissions.In the 5-4 decision, written by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and joined by joined by Justices John Paul Stevens, david souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and stephen breyer, the Court ruled that attaining a diverse student body is at the heart of a law school's proper institutional mission, and that Good Faith on the part of a university in pursuing diversity should be presumed, absent a showing to the contrary.

The Supreme Court emphasized that the law school sought to enroll a "critical mass" of minority students, not simply to assure that its student body had some specified percentage of a particular group. In concluding that the law school's admissions policy was narrowly tailored, the Supreme Court stated that the policy did not operate as a quota, but used race as a "plus" factor, such that the policy was flexible enough to ensure that each applicant was evaluated as an individual.

The plaintiff was a white Michigan resident whose application was rejected by the law school. She alleged that her application was denied because the law school used race as a "predominant factor." A district court agreed with the plaintiff, but the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed.

In a separate 6-3 decision handed down the same day as Grutter v. Bollinger, the Court struck down a separate University of Michigan under-graduate-admissions process based on a point system because the admissions process made race a "decisive" factor, rather than just one of many in determining who was admitted. Gratz v. Bollinger, ___U.S.___, 123 S.Ct. 2411, 156L.Ed.2d 257, 2003 WL 21434002 (U.S. Jun 23,2003) (NO. 02-516). The opinion was delivered by Chief Justice william rehnquist, who was joined by Justices O'Connor, Antonin Scalia, anthony kennedy, and Clarence Thomas.

This point-system ruling is expected to force state schools that use similar numerical methods to revise them, and it could cause companies to rethink their reliance on quantitative evaluations of job applicants and employees. Although Michigan is a public university, the decision is considered likely to apply to selective private universities as well because they receive government funding. It also will affect admission practices at selective public high schools where affirmative action has also been eliminated or besieged.

Distaste for affirmative action also led opponents to attack the policy at the state level through ballot initiatives and referendums. In November 1998, the California electorate passed Proposition 209 (54 to 46 percent), which banned many of the affirmative action programs in California. The Referendum was promoted by the nonprofit Center for Individual Rights, which was also instrumental in building opposition to the University of Texas admissions policy that was struck down in Hopwood. The proposition has remained a controversial topic, with supporters arguing that state and local officials have avoided dismantling affirmative action. These same supporters continue to call on state officials to enforce the law. Officials, however, have pointed out that under the proposition, when federal laws mandate affirmative action to qualify for federal monies, the state law must give way.

In 2000, Florida became the first state to voluntarily end affirmative action in higher education and state contracts. Public universities put into place new college admission policies that prohibit affirmative action. One new component was the Talented 20 Plan, which mandates that students who graduate in the top 20 percent of their class and who complete a college preparatory curriculum must be admitted into one of the ten state universities. These changes were designed to increase opportunity and diversity while ending racial preferences and set-asides.

In the face of continuing legal challenges, the fate of U.S. affirmative action programs remained unclear in early 2004. Recent federal court decisions as well as state government actions suggested that affirmative action policies might need to change in order to pass constitutional muster in the future. Commentators speculated that a Supreme Court—after expected retirement of the older justices—might be more likely to signal its rejection of existing affirmative action principles.

Further readings

ACLU. 1995a. Affirmative Action. Briefing paper no. 17, March 22.

——. 1995b. The Case for Affirmative Action. July 1.

"Affirmative Action." 1995. CQ Researcher. April 28.

Clinton, President Bill. 1995. Speech at the National Archives, July 31.

Coyle, Marcia. 2003. "The Fallout Begins: In Its Final Week of the Term, the Supreme Court Hands Down Landmark Rulings That Give Legal Backing to Two Kinds of Diversity; Affirmative Action and Gay Rights." The National Law Journal 25 (July 7).

Curry, George E., and Cornel West, eds. 1996. The Affirmative Action Debate. New York: Perseus.

Landsberg, Brian K. 2003. "Affirmative-Action Decision Indicated Shifts in Position." The Los Angeles Daily Journal 116 (June 30).

Rubio, Philip F. 2001. A History of Affirmative Action, 1619–2000. Oxford: Univ. Press of Mississippi.

Cross-references

Civil Rights Acts; Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; Seniority; Sex Discrimination.

affirmative action

n. the process of a business or governmental agency in which it gives special rights of hiring or advancement to ethnic minorities to make up past discrimination against that minority. Affirmative action has been the subject of legal battles on the basis that it is reverse discrimination against caucasians, but in most challenges to affirmative action the programs have been upheld.

affirmative action

noun effort to correct past injustices, means to right the wrongs of the past, plan to make up for unfairness in the past, positive steps to correct past discriminationGenerally: fairness, just treatment, opportunities, remedial changeSpecifically: plan for increased representation for minorities, plan for increased representation for women, racial quotas