Affirmative Action

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In 1997, three students were denied admission into the University of Michigan. Each of them, in turn, sued the school, charging them with discrimination. In one of the cases, a student was denied admission into Michigan’s law school. Chicago Sun-Times writers Dave Newbart and Kate Grossman reported that last Monday, June 23, 2003, in a 5-4 majority ruling, swing vote Justice Sandra Day O’Connor judged for the school maintaining their right to consider the race of their applicants. In a second decision, the court ruled that they supported the University’s use of race in their admissions policy, but use of a point system was unconstitutional under the fourteenth amendment (Equal Protection Clause). Why then was the student still dissatisfied with the ruling? She was suing the school for reverse discrimination stemming from the University of Michigan’s use of affirmative action towards their applicants. The student was white. The lawsuit sent shockwaves across the nation. Though the case centered on college admission practices, affirmative action plays a role in many everyday matters, especially towards procedures regarding employment. Before delving into discourse and opinions, the background and history of affirmative action should be discussed. According to writer Stephen Cahn, affirmative action’s origins stem from an executive order that John F. Kennedy wrote in regards to the hiring practices of employers. Cahn writes that the President’s Committee on Equal Opportunity Employment stated federal contractors “...will not discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment because of race, creed, color, or national origin. The Contractor will take affirmative action, to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin." The principle of this order from President Kennedy was more developed with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which in part stated that "No person in the United States shall, on the grounds of race, color or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance." About one year later, President Lyndon B. Johnson defined the concept of affirmative action emphasizing that civil rights laws alone were not enough to resolve discrimination. Just months later, President Johnson issued an order to enforce affirmative action toward prospective minority employees in all aspects of hiring and employment. Employers must take specific measures to ensure equality in hiring and must document these efforts.

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