Affirmative Action: Making the Case for Greater Equality

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The 1960s were not a time in which politics of race, gender, and socioeconomic inequalities were taken likely. After the tragic assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson undertook a course of action to minimize previous discrepancies between classes and races, culminating in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which sought to give more opportunities to the less privileged in order to combat decades of inequality. One example is in the case of Loving vs. Virginia.

After garnering initial success, affirmative action then stood the test of the Supreme Court, whom, for decades, have gone back and forth on its credentials. This ever-changing sociopolitical ferment gave rise to the famous Court case, Regents of the University of California vs. Bakke, in which the justices decided in favor of Allen Bakke. However, it is necessary to pay attention to the fact that the Court decided against the University, not because of an adherence to affirmative action,  but because of how the school conducted the admission process, in particular when it set aside 16 of 100 spots for “Blacks, Chicanos, Asians, and American Indians” (Powell 1978). This is what the Court viewed as an unconstitutional manner of attaining greater equality in the classroom.

In 2003, however, the Court again showed its recognition of the benefits of affirmative action, and differing from Johnson’s goal of prohibiting discrimination, actually took a greater stance to ensure racial equality. The 5-4 decision written by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor specified that schools had a compelling interest to ensure greater racial and socioeconomic diversity, and that granting underprivileged students greater opportunities than their peers was constitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment, henceforth changing the constitutional interpretation of affirmative action (O’Connor 2003). 

For these reasons, affirmative action has become quite a topic of debate in American politics, as its proponents have battled hard-line constitutionalists who feel it gives unfair advantages to the underprivileged. The Supreme Court, while not the only governmental body discussing affirmative action, has, at this point, given way to greater equality, although changing the way schools and employers may attain a diverse student body and/or workforce.

Works Cited

Grutter v. Bollinger.  539 U.S. 306.  Supreme Court of the United States.  2003.  J-Stor Academic.  Web.  3 Jan. 2012.

Regents of the University of California v. Bakke.  438 U.S. 265.  Supreme Court of the United States.  J-Stor Academic.  Web.  2 Jan. 2012.