Affrimative Action Essay, Research Paper
Affirmative ActionThe Battle of Race fought in the trenches of the Law “I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Few social policy issues have served as a better gauge of racial and ethnic divisions among the American people than Affirmative Action. Affirmative Action is a term referring to laws and social policies intended to alleviate discrimination that limits opportunities for a variety of groups in various social institutions. Supporters and opponents of Affirmative Action are passionate about their beliefs, and attack the opposing viewpoints relentlessly. Advocates believe it overcomes discrimination, gives qualified minorities a chance to compete on equal footing with whites, and provides them with the same opportunities. Opponents charge that Affirmative Action places unskilled minorities in positions they are not qualified for, tarnishes the reputation of minorities that accomplish success on their own, and violates the Fourteenth Amendment. Since its inception, the definition of Affirmative Action has been ever-changing. Prohibiting discrimination in hiring, expanding the applicant pool to include more minorities, compensating for past grievances, setting “quotas” (percentages of a certain type of people that had to be included), have all been part of the definition. Until January 1, 1863 when Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, slavery was permissible in the United States of America. “All persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.” Seven years earlier in 1857, in one of its most embarrassing decisions ever, the Supreme Court had ruled in Dred Scott v. Sanford that blacks were “subordinate and inferior beings,” and could not be constitutionally citizens of the United States, whether slave or free. On December 6, 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified, permanently abolishing slavery. “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” The Fourteenth Amendment, ratified July 9, 1868, extended the rights of minorities. “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 Fifteenth Amendment Ratified February 3, 1870 guaranteed voting rights to all citizens, including freed slaves. “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Although Slavery was unconstitutional, blacks and other minorities were still considered inferior. White supremacist groups including the Ku Klux Klan, wreaked havoc. In 1883 the Supreme Court regressed and struck down the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which barred discrimination by non-governmental entities. A whole new group of segregationist ordinances were passed. Called “Jim Crow” laws, the new segregation excluded blacks from white schools, jobs, theaters and restaurants, the races were separated in any manner possible. The Constitutional validity of “Jim Crow” laws depended on the idea that segregated public facilities were acceptable as long as they were roughly equivalent. In 1896 the Supreme Court once again held up the Constitutional validity of “Separate but Equal” in the case Plessy v. Ferguson. Around the turn of the century, 18 states had ruled against racial discrimination, but Southerners were maintaining their prejudices. The civil rights movement slowly began. The Supreme Court’s decisions gradually began to support the end of discrimination. In 1917, in the case of Buchanan v. Warley, the Court decided that a system of residential segregation enforced by the city of Louisville, Kentucky violated the Fourteenth Amendment. In 1941 President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802, barring segregation by government defense contractors. Roosevelt’s actions increased black wartime employment and demonstrated that the federal government would take “affirmative” steps to help end racism. In 1956 the Supreme Court ruled in the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas that “Racial segregation in public education has a detrimental effect on minority children because it is interpreted as a sign of inferiority.” Separate but equal was no longer lawful. The civil rights movement continued, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders fought for equal rights. In 1961, John Fitzgerald Kennedy became the first President to use the phrase “affirmative action” when he issued Executive Order 10952, creating the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and directing contractors on projects financed with federal funds to”take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and employees are treated during their employment, without regard to race, creed, color or national origin.” Kennedy was also interested in expanding educational and employment opportunities for minorities. Kennedy believed that “even the complete elimination of racial discrimination in employment – a goal toward which this nation must strive – will not put a single unemployed Negro to work unless he has the skills required.” In 1964 Congress passed a civil rights bill, “The Civil Rights Act of 1964″ which had largely been written by the Kennedy administration, but was finished by Lyndon Johnson. There were seven major sections (Titles). Title I protected every citizen’s right to vote. Title II prohibited discrimination in privately-owned facilities open to the public, Title VI outlawed discrimination in federally-funded programs, and Title VII prohibited discrimination by both private and public employers. In 1978 the Supreme Court ruled on Regents of the University of California v. Bakke. The medical school set aside sixteen of one hundred total places ineach entering class for disadvantaged and minority students, who were considered in a separate admissions system. This case was important in deciding the fate of quotas, a controversial measure. The legitimacy of using “race-conscious remedies under some circumstances” was upheld, however the justices had many separate opinions. One justice, Powell, argued to apply to Affirmative Action the standard of strict scrutiny, which was employed in assessing “invidious” discrimination, explained later. In 1995 the Supreme Court issued a closely divided opinion in Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Pe a. The decision restricted, but did not strike down, Affirmative Action in the granting of federal highway construction contracts. Using the logic it had used against state and local governmental Affirmative Action programs in its 1989 decision in Richmond v. Croson, the Court in Adarand held that federal government Affirmative Action programs would also be subject to “strict scrutiny.” Prior to Croson and Adarand, courts applied separate tests for judging governmental action which employed race as a criterion, depending on whether the use was “benign” (meant to include) or “invidious” (meant to exclude). If the use of race was invidious, a “strict scrutiny” standard applied, requiring that the government prove; first, it was necessary to achieve a compelling government interest, and second that it was narrowly tailored to accomplish this end. If the use of race was benign, an “intermediate scrutiny” standard only required that the government show the use of race was rationally related to accomplishing an important governmental goal.
Another recent important case, Hopwood v. State of Texas has sent ripples through the educational world. It was brought by white applicants to the University of Texas claiming that they were discriminated against on the basis of race when the University accepted less qualified black and Mexican American applicants for admission through the use of a quota system. The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, ruled that the University of Texas may not use race as a factor when admitting students, and the Supreme Court held up the opinion by denying a writ of certiorari. This monumental decision accelerated Affirmative Action’s journey towards extinction in higher education. In California, there is an ongoing debate concerning Proposition 209, which prohibits the state, local governments, districts, public universities, colleges, schools, and other government instrumentalities from discriminating against or giving preferential treatment to any individual or group in public employment, public education, or public contracting on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin. It was passed by the California electorate by a 54-46 percent vote on November 5, 1996. It is now Article I, Section 31 of the California Constitution. On November 3, 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari in the case, letting stand the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision of April, 1997 which strongly upholds the constitutionality of the measure. Advocates of Affirmative Action defend it fervently, they claim it levels the playing field, at times even making it out to be a racial panacea. Discrimination still exists, they maintain, and must be remedied. In 1990, the average black male worker earned $731 for every $1,000 earned by a white male worker, and although white males make up only 43% of the workforce, they occupy 97% of the top executive positions at America’s 1,500 largest corporations. Affirmative Action programs are designed to ensure fair criteria for all applicants. Currently, 86% of available jobs are not advertised, they are filled by word-of-mouth. Since white men still own and manage most US businesses, they tend to know and hire other white male applicants. Something needs to be done to remedy this situation. Critics maintain that Affirmative Action is reverse discrimination, and violates the Fourteenth Amendment, which forbids preferential treatment to a group based on race. They believe that Affirmative Action promotes the hiring of unqualified workers, and sometimes forces employers to choose the best of the minority workers they can find, regardless of whether they have the required job skills. In 1988 Duke University adopted a resolution requiring each department to hire at least one new black for a faculty position by 1993. Only six blacks received Ph.D.s in mathematics in 1987 in all of the U.S., forcing the University to hire a less-qualified professor. Affirmative Action is blamed for lowering standards, some colleges lower their standards by as much as 300 SAT points. The lowered standards detrimentally affects the overall quality of the education, disturbing the learning of the Affirmative Action students, as well as the normal students. Affirmative Action places a stigma on groups that receive preferential treatment. Consider an employer who hires a member of a minority group for a high position on the basis of merit, other employees however, are likely to assume that it was an Affirmative Action hiring, and the individual is not qualified. Affirmative Action causes minorities to feel inadequate, that they need assistance and cannot achieve their goals on their own. Minorities are encouraged to work less and idle, allowing them leeway that can be readily abused. In the past few months I have reviewed an immense amount of information in order to write this paper. I have tried to remain as impartial as possible, but I have not been able to avoid forming opinions regarding this subject. In the 1960’s a device was needed to help curb the racism that was so rampant, and sensitize the public to the plight of minorities. Affirmative Action did just that, opening up many opportunities for the people that had been previously denied chances to prosper. Affirmative Action was an essential part of the desegregation that occurred thirty years ago, but it has become outdated and it is not the solution anymore. It was a temporary plan to improve the conditions for minorities, but it is now more of a hindrance than a help. Affirmative Action lowers standards, causes unqualified workers to be hired, places a stigma on minorities, lowers their confidence, and gives them the opportunity and encouragement to idle. Affirmative Action has not been fulfilling it’s goal of assisting lower income minorities with a history of discrimination, but has mostly been exploited by middle-class minorities, the lower income groups still remaining uneducated and unsuccessful. The focus should be shifted to aiding the disadvantaged, regardless of race or color, and preference should be based on economic status, not race. Race is still a problem, this is not a color blind society (Killers of whites were 4.3 times more likely to receive the death penalty in Georgia than killers of other races). Steps should be taken to close the gap between the races, but using race as a criterion, even if for honest purposes, will not eliminate racism, it only serves to accentuate the differences between races. Instead, children need to be taught tolerance early on, projects to enhance diversity in schools should be established, outreach programs in the community should be created, minority youths should be tutored so they can excell in school and be given opportunities. There are a profusion of alternatives to Affirmative Action which can all be explored. In conclusion, Affirmative Action is one of the most important and controversial social issues of our time, and will continue to be questionable as long as it is part of our legal system. Legal decisions regarding Affirmative Action are thrusting it towards extinction, but its supporters will fight fiercely to reverse the trend, and itt will be interesting to observe the direction taken by the courts in the next few years. Regardless of the outcome, Affirmative Action has revolutionized the way the population views race, whether part of the majority or the minority.