A high-level overview of how the Court has interpreted affirmative action policies.
In the 1960s, the executive branch began calling for the use of affirmative action in hiring practices and admission processes to help create equal opportunities for members of disadvantaged groups.
Since then, the Supreme Court has ruled on several cases relating to the constitutionality of affirmative action. These decisions highlight the debate between justices about the constitutionality of racial classifications to help minorities. At times, the Supreme Court has upheld affirmative action practices, while at other times it has struck them down.
|affirmative action||Efforts to improve opportunities for underrepresented or disadvantaged groups, especially in relation to employment or education.|
|the “colorblind” Constitution||The belief that the Constitution protects citizens of all races equally, and that additional measures such as affirmative action are unnecessary.|
|equal protection clause||A provision of the Fourteenth Amendment that prohibits states from denying equal protection of the laws to their residents.|
Supreme Court rulings on affirmative action: The Court’s interpretation of the Constitution has influenced the debate on affirmative action: some justices argue that affirmative action is constitutional, holding that the Constitution only forbids racial classifications designed to harm minorities. Other justices disagree, arguing that affirmative action is unconstitutional because it creates race-based and gender-based classifications, benefitting certain genders and race groups over others.
For example, in Grutter v. Bollinger (2003), the Court ruled in favor of affirmative action in circumstances where race was one factor among many considered in admissions decisions, and when the purpose of the school’s affirmative action policy was to achieve a diverse student body. But in Gratz v. Bollinger (2003), the Court ruled against affirmative action when it takes the form of a points- or quota-based system.
Why has the Supreme Court determined affirmative action programs to be constitutional at some times, but unconstitutional at other times?
Do you think race-based classifications are constitutional when they are designed to help minority groups? Why or why not?