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Affirmative Action

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The 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 in each 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



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