Affirmative action - Maxicours
For most of this century, discrimination has prevailed in the USA against minorities such as some ethnic groups (Blacks, Hispanics, American-Indians, Asian-Americans) or women.
The 13th, 14th and 15th amendments of the American Constitution were meant to forbid racial discrimination and ensure an equal protection under the law for all citizens in the USA. Nevertheless, this was not enough to avoid prejudice referring to race or ethnic origin, age, gender, or religion.
1. Discrimination
Before the 60's, employment opportunity was greatly restricted for these minorities, who were offered low wage jobs, even if they were college-educated. Afro-Americans who could attend colleges entered segregated institutions whereas Asian-Americans and Hispanics were legally prevented from attending some public schools. Access to some occupations was barred by laws for women, who were often segregated into unskilled jobs.
2. Affirmative action
In the 1960's, the government decided to undertake a decisive action in order to remedy the effect of these discriminations. Policies were set up so as to give preferential treatment to women or minority groups in the fields of employment, education, culture, or housing and measures were taken. This was called "Affirmative action". Supreme Court orders and Executive orders developed simultaneously:
– In 1961: A Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity was created by President J.F. Kennedy.
– In 1964: A Civil Rights Act forbid racial discrimination on the part of large private employers and in public accommodation.
– In 1965: Voting Rights Act, executive order issued by President Lyndon Johnson.
– In 1967: Gender was taken into account in addition to the other protected categories.
– In 1972: Equal Opportunity Act, amendments to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 signed by President Nixon. A commission was created to enforce the plans set up.
3. The questioning of Affirmative action
Despite some advances, minorities continued to suffer from discrimination. In the late 70's, the Affirmative action programs started to be questioned. The quotas imposed led to criticism from people who complained that Affirmative action had created a reverse discrimination and unwarranted preferences (une discrimination à l'envers et des préférences injustifiées). This led to the judicial challenge of Affirmative action. The Bakke Case in 1978 is one of the most famous examples: the US Supreme Court outlawed (to outlaw = proscrire) a quota program in a Californian medical school where 16 places were reserved for qualified minorities. The Court decided, however, that minority status could be used as a factor in making decisions on admissions.

In 1989, Affirmative action was restricted by the Supreme Court. Stricter limits were defined for programs and the use of minority set-asides was outlawed when proof of past discrimination was not found.

In 1996 in California, all government agencies and institutions were forbidden, by a new legislation, to give preferences on the grounds of sex or race. Attempts have been made by legislation or judicial action to change policies in other states as well.

Affirmative action is currently a burning issue in the USA.

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