The 7 Most Important Affirmative Action Battles
We can't believe it's in jeopardy after surviving challenges like these
With the Supreme Court likely to reconsider the issue of affirmative action in higher education within the year, we decided to take a look back at some of the most significant legal battles in the war over Affirmative Action.
1) The Philadelphia Plan: Implemented by President Richard Nixon in 1970, the plan is considered the first significant federal affirmative action program, requiring government contractors in the city of brotherly love, to hire minority workers. The plan expanded to other cities and has withstood various court challenges.
2) Regents of the University of California v. Bakke: After being denied admission to multiple medical schools in 1972, 1973 and 1974, Vietnam War veteran Allan Bakke, sought judicial action. Despite admissions officers blaming his age (at 32, Bakke was older than most applicants) Bakke, who is white, argued that the University of California, Davis School of Medicine denied admission to him while a committee approved the admission of less qualified “special applicants,” who were racial minorities. The court found that the separate admissions review process benefiting “special applicants” constituted racial quotas and was therefore unlawful. Bakke began his studies, graduating in 1982. The case would lay the groundwork to later challenges to race as a consideration in college admissions in the California state college system.
3) Proposition 209: Passed in 1996, the ballot initiative amended the California constitution to include the following language: “The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.” The result? Race was removed as a consideration on college applications from the state’s public university system. Since then minority enrollment has decreased throughout the state’s public university system, with the exception of enrollment among Asian students, which has increased.
4) Hopwood v. Texas: After being denied admission to the University of Texas Law School in 1992 Cheryl Hopwood, who is white, filed suit, arguing that lesser qualified minority applicants had been admitted. While the initial judge found in favor of using race as a consideration in admission, calling affirmative action a “necessity,” the Fifth Circuit ruled that race could not be a factor. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case. Texas Governor George W. Bush then advocated what is known colloquially as the “Top Ten Percent law” in which the top 10% of students from any senior class in Texas would automatically be granted admission into Texas public universities. The law remains in effect today.
5) Michigan Civil Rights Initiative: Endorsed by the architect of Proposition 209, African-American conservative Ward Connerly, the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative sought to replicate amendments to the California constitution, in Michigan. The ballot initiative passed in 2006 but was recently overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals. Michigan’s Attorney General has said he will appeal.
6) Grutter v. Bollinger: A white student denied admission to the University of Michigan Law School file suit arguing that the school used race as a “predominant” factor in deciding admission. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, where despite a controversial brief from the Bush administration supporting the plaintiff’s position that the school’s admissions policy was unconstitutional, the admissions policy was upheld by the court. By determining that race could be used as a criteria of consideration for admissions, the case reversed the impact of the Hopwood ruling in the Texas university system.
7) Fisher v. University of Texas: Abigail Fisher, sued after being denied admission to the University of Texas in 2011. Fisher, just missed graduating in the top ten percent of her class, which according to the “Top Ten Percent” law would have guaranteed her automatic admission. Fisher alleges that were it not for her race (she’s white) she still would have been admitted. The lower court recently upheld the Grutter decision, meaning the University of Texas is allowed to consider factors like race in admissions decisions. Legal experts predict that the Supreme Court will agree to review the case within the coming year and in doing so issue the final legal word on present day affirmative action.