Steps Forward and Back: An Affirmative Action Timeline

Steps Forward and Back: An Affirmative Action Timeline


Vol. 20, No. 1, 1998 p. 22

1953: Harry Truman’s Committee on Governmental Contract Compliance urged the Bureau of Employment Security to “act positively and affirmatively to implement a policy of nondiscrimination” in its programs.

1961: John F. Kennedy signed Executive Order 10925, invoking the term “affirmative action” for the first time at the federal level.

1964: Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a set of laws that prohibits discrimination in privately-owned facilities open to the public, in federally-funded programs, and in both private and public employment. Created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to prevent discrimination, but placed powers of enforcement in the realm of the courts.

1965: Lyndon Johnson signed Executive Order 11246 requiring “federal contractors to take affirmative action to provide equal opportunity without regard to a person’s race, religion, or national origin.”

1970: The Philadelphia Plan, by Richard Nixon, emphasized numerical goals and timetables in construction. Revised in 1971 to include women.

1971: Griggs v. Duke Power Co.- Supreme Court restricted the use of hiring standards that effectively excluded minorities unless they were shown to be a job-related necessity.

1972: Congress passed the Equal Employment Opportunity Act, extending the EEOCs jurisdiction, giving greater emphasis to systematic discrimination, and broadening the right to file class-action suits.

1978: Regents of University of California v. Bakke – Supreme Court ruled that the University of California could not reserve spots for minority applicants, but that it could consider race as one of many factors.

1978: United Steel Workers v. Weber – Supreme Court upheld voluntary affirmative action plans even in absence of past government discrimination and right of employers to use race as a factor to promote racial diversity.

1980: Fullilove v. Klutznick – Supreme Court upheld minority contract set-asides for Federal programs in order to compensate for past discrimination.

1987: U.S. v. Paradise – Supreme Court upheld preferences in hiring and promoting blacks to compensate for discrimination in the Alabama State Police.

1989: Richmond v. J.A. Croson Co. – First major setback in affirmative action in construction industry since 1970. Struck down a Richmond, Va. law that set-aside 30 percent of its construction contracts for minorities.

1989: Wards Cove Packing Co. v. Antonio – Reversed Griggs by ruling that an employment practice with apparent discriminatory effect can be justified if it “serves, in a significant way, the legitimate goals of the employer.”

1990: Metro Broadcasting v. FCC – Supreme Court upheld minority preferences in broadcast licensing to achieve diversity in the nation’s airwaves.

1991: Congress passed Civil Rights Act of 1991, intending to balance the previous decade of Supreme Court rulings. Helped individual victims of discrimination who seek redress through the courts.

1994: Kirwan v. Podberesky – Appellate Court ruled that the University of Maryland’s history of discrimination did not justify the existence of thirty race-based merit scholarships. Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal.

1995: Adarand Constructors v. Peña – Supreme Court overturned Fullilove and Metro Broadcasting decisions. Established “strict scrutiny” criteria for reversing past discrimination. Declared that discrimination against whites should be scrutinized by the same standard as discrimination against any minority.

1996: Hopwood v. Texas – Appellate Court refused to follow Bakke decision. Ruled the school could not use race as a factor even for the sake of diversity. Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal.

1996: Proposition 209 passed by initiative in California. Prohibits use of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in hiring, promotion, and contracting in state agencies. Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal.

1997: Taxman v. Piscataway School Board – Appellate Court ruled that the only justification for using race in hiring was to remedy past discrimination. Out-of-court settlement prevented the Supreme Court from ruling.