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Affirmative Action - Affirmative Action In Practice

president federal defunis university

In 1961 President John Kennedy first used the term "affirmative action" in Executive Order 10925, which required federal contractors to hire more minority employees. The policy, as Kennedy envisioned it, was meant to provide minorities an opportunity to demonstrate their skills. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, passed during the Johnson Administration, guaranteed equality to blacks and effectively ended Jim Crow laws. However, President Johnson believed that the scars caused by years of legal discrimination in the South could not be quickly erased. In a commencement speech that he delivered at Howard University on 4 June 1965, President Johnson said: "You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, `You're free to compete with all the others,' and justly believe that you have been completely fair." The president then went on to say that freedom alone was not the solution, that there needed to be opportunity and "not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact." That same year, the president signed Executive Order 11246, which provided a means to implement affirmative action policies. The order required federal contractors to file written affirmative action plans with the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) under the Department of Labor.

It was during the administration of President Richard Nixon that affirmative action programs began requiring specific target goals, or quotas, and timetables for hiring minorities and females. In the late 1960s, the federal government began pushing for the inclusion of more minorities into high-paying, trade-union jobs and in 1969 authorized what would become known as the Philadelphia Plan. The program required construction companies in Philadelphia that received federal contracts to increase the number of racial minorities in that city's construction industry from one percent to 12 percent. The Civil Rights Act of 1972 was passed under the Nixon Administration. The act allowed the department of theEqual Employment Opportunity Commission to file lawsuits and regulate both state and local governments. Further presidential mandates regarding affirmative action appeared over the years, including the Public Works Employment Act, signed by President Jimmy Carter in 1977. This act required state and local government to spend 10 percent of federal funds for public works on Minority Business Enterprises.

Early on, federally mandated set-asides began being challenged in the courts. In 1974, the Supreme Court almost ruled on the constitutionality of university affirmative-action programs in the case of DeFunis v. Odegaard. DeFunis, a white male, sued the University of Washington Law School when he was denied admission while minority students with lower test scores were accepted into the program. The case had worked its way up through the appeals courts and during that time, the university had been ordered to admit DeFunis while the case was being reviewed. When DeFunis was only weeks away from graduation, the case came up for review by the U.S. Supreme Court. Instead of ruling on the legality of the admissions process, the Court decided that the case was moot since DeFunis had already finished his law school studies.

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