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3.13 Affirmative Action

5 min readfebruary 4, 2023

Annika Tekumulla

Annika Tekumulla

Riya Patel

Riya Patel


AP US Government 👩🏾‍⚖️

240 resources
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Introduction

Affirmative action refers to policies and programs aimed at promoting equal opportunity and diversity in areas such as education and employment. These programs often give special consideration to historically underrepresented groups, such as women and minorities, in an effort to address past discrimination and promote diversity.
Affirmative action has been the subject of numerous legal challenges and remains a controversial issue in the United States. Supporters argue that it is necessary to level the playing field and provide equal opportunities for historically marginalized groups. Critics argue that it is reverse discrimination and undermines the merit-based principles of education and employment.
The Supreme Court has issued several decisions related to affirmative action, including Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978) and Grutter v. Bollinger (2003). In these cases, the Court has upheld the use of race as a factor in university admissions, but has placed limits on the extent to which race can be used and has emphasized the need for narrowly tailored programs.
Affirmative action remains a complex and evolving issue, with ongoing debates about its effectiveness, fairness, and constitutionality.

Key Terms

  • Equal opportunity: The principle that individuals should be treated fairly and have equal access to education and employment opportunities, regardless of their race, gender, or other personal characteristics.
  • Diversity: The quality of being diverse; the presence of different races, ethnicities, genders, and other personal characteristics within a group or organization.
  • Historically underrepresented groups: Groups that have faced discrimination and barriers to equal opportunity in the past, such as women and minorities.
  • Special consideration: Additional support or advantages provided to certain individuals or groups in order to promote equal opportunity and diversity.
  • Reverse discrimination: The idea that affirmative action policies discriminate against certain individuals or groups, such as white men, in favor of historically underrepresented groups.
  • Merit-based principles: The belief that education and employment opportunities should be awarded based on merit and individual qualifications, rather than race, gender, or other personal characteristics.
  • Legal challenges: Challenges to affirmative action policies brought before the courts on the grounds of constitutionality or discrimination.
  • Supreme Court decisions: Decisions related to affirmative action issued by the Supreme Court of the United States, including Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978) and Grutter v. Bollinger (2003).
  • Use of race: The consideration of race as a factor in decisions related to education and employment, such as university admissions.
  • Narrowly tailored programs: Affirmative action programs that are specifically designed to address past discrimination and promote diversity, while minimizing the potential for reverse discrimination.

Colorblind" Constitution

"Colorblind" Constitution refers to the interpretation of the US Constitution that race should not be considered in legal or political decision making. This interpretation is based on the idea that the Constitution guarantees equal protection under the law for all citizens, regardless of race, and that the government should be neutral and impartial with regard to race. Proponents of a "colorblind" Constitution believe that affirmative action and other race-conscious policies are discriminatory and that the best way to achieve racial equality is to ignore race altogether.
Critics argue that this interpretation ignores the historical and ongoing impact of racism and discrimination, and that race-conscious policies are necessary to address past and present injustices. The concept of a "colorblind" Constitution continues to be a subject of debate and is an ongoing issue in discussions about race, equal protection, and the role of government in promoting equality.

Equal Protection Clause

The Equal Protection Clause is a provision in the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution that guarantees equal protection under the law for all citizens. The clause states that "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."
The Equal Protection Clause is a cornerstone of civil rights in the United States, and has been used to strike down laws and policies that discriminate based on race, gender, religion, and other personal characteristics. The clause has also been used to support affirmative action programs, as long as they are narrowly tailored to address past discrimination and promote diversity.
The interpretation of the Equal Protection Clause has evolved over time, and the Supreme Court has issued several landmark decisions interpreting the clause, including Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which struck down segregation in public schools, and Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978), which considered the constitutionality of affirmative action in university admissions.

Grutter v. Bollinger (2003) & Gratz v. Bollinger (2003)

Grutter v. Bollinger (2003) and Gratz v. Bollinger (2003) were two cases decided by the Supreme Court of the United States that considered the use of race in university admissions.
In Grutter v. Bollinger, the Court upheld the University of Michigan Law School's use of race as a factor in its admissions process, ruling that the law school's policy was narrowly tailored to achieve diversity and did not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
In Gratz v. Bollinger, the Court struck down the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions policy, which automatically awarded 20 points to underrepresented minority applicants, as a violation of the Equal Protection Clause. The Court found that the policy was too mechanical and inflexible, and did not adequately consider the individual circumstances of each applicant.
These cases have had a significant impact on the use of race in university admissions and have helped to define the constitutional boundaries of affirmative action programs. The Court has held that the use of race in admissions is constitutional as long as it is narrowly tailored to serve a compelling interest in promoting diversity.

Key Takeaways

  • Affirmative action refers to policies and programs aimed at promoting equal opportunity and diversity in areas such as education and employment.
  • The purpose of affirmative action is to address past discrimination and promote diversity by giving special consideration to historically underrepresented groups, such as women and minorities.
  • Affirmative action remains a controversial issue in the United States, with ongoing debates about its effectiveness, fairness, and constitutionality.
  • Affirmative action has been the subject of numerous legal challenges, and the Supreme Court has issued several decisions related to its use, including Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978) and Grutter v. Bollinger (2003).
  • The Supreme Court has upheld the use of race as a factor in university admissions, but has placed limits on the extent to which race can be used and has emphasized the need for narrowly tailored programs.
  • Affirmative action remains a complex and evolving issue, with ongoing debates about its impact on society and the need for continued efforts to promote diversity and equal opportunity.

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