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Evolution of Affirmative Action

  • 1997 - The Supreme Court agrees to hear Piscataway Board of Education v. Taxman, a case involving a white teacher who claims she lost her job because of the school board’s racial diversity policy.

  • 1997 - President Clinton appoints a special race advisory board and begins a “national conversation” on improving race relations in America.

  • 1997 - A federal appeals court rules that Proposition 209 is constitutional. The Supreme Court agrees to review it.

  • 1996 - Voters in California approve Proposition 209, banning affirmative action in all state programs.

  • 1995 - President Clinton, in a speech at the National Archives, announces the completion of his five-month review of affirmative action and reaffirms his support.

  • 1995 - The Supreme Court, in Adarand Constructors Inc. v. Pena, restricts affirmative action in the granting of federal highway construction contracts.

  • 1994 - Republicans gain majority in Congress.

  • 1993 - President Bill Clinton withdraws his appointment of Philadelphia law professor Lani Guinier to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division under pressure from conservatives.

  • 1991 - Congress passes the Civil Rights Act of 1991 helping individual victims of discrimination who seek redress through the courts.

  • 1989 - The Supreme Court, in Wards Cove v. Atonio, reverses 18 years of legal precedent under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by moving the burden of proof in “discriminatory impact” cases from the employer to the complaining victim of discrimination.

  • 1981 - President Ronald Reagan appoints to key positions people openly hostile to affirmative action, most notably, Clarence Thomas to the EEOC and Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy to the Supreme Court.

  • 1978 - The Supreme Court, in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, rules that the rights of a white medical school applicant were violated by set-aside admissions for minority applicants.

  • 1972 - Congress passes the Equal Employment Opportunity Act extending the EEOC’s jurisdiction and giving greater emphasis to systematic discrimination.

  • 1970 - President Richard Nixon issues his “Philadelphia Plan” establishing numerical goals and timetables for affirmative action.

  • 1968 - Congress passes the nation’s first open housing law, the Civil Rights Act of 1968.

  • 1968 - Martin Luther King Jr. assassinated.

  • 1965 - President Lyndon Johnson issues Executive Order 11246, placing primary responsibility for affirmative action enforcement with the Department of Labor and promulgating nondiscrimination rules for federal contractors.

  • 1965 - Congress passes the Voting Rights Act, putting enforcement “teeth” in the Fifteenth Amendment.

  • 1964 - Congress breaks a Southern-led filibuster and passes the most far-reaching civil rights legislation in world history.

  • 1963 - Martin Luther King Jr. leads a quarter-million Americans of all races in a march on Washington for racial justice.

  • 1961 - John F. Kennedy becomes the first president to use the phrase “affirmative action” when he issues Executive Order 10952, creating the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

  • 1954 - The Supreme Court, in Brown v. Board of Education, strikes down all local, state and federal laws that enforced segregation in education.

  • 1941 - Black union leader A. Philip Randolph mobilizes thousands of black workers in the “Negro March on Washington Movement” to pressure Franklin Roosevelt to carry out civil rights reforms.

  • 1896 - The Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson, upholds the doctrine of “separate but equal.”

  • 1883 - The Supreme Court strikes down the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which barred discrimination by non-governmental entities.

  • 1869 - Congress passes the Fifteenth Amendment, which guarantees voting rights to all citizens.

  • 1866 - Congress sends the Fourteenth Amendment to the states. It confers citizenship to all persons born in the United States and requires the states to provide all persons with “equal protection” of the laws.

  • 1865 - The Thirteenth Amendment is ratified, permanently abolishing slavery.

  • 1863 - President Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation, setting free the slaves in the Confederate states.

  • 1857 - The U.S. Supreme Court, in Dred Scott v. Sanford, rules that blacks, as “subordinate and inferior beings,” cannot constitutionally be citizens of the United States, whether slave or free.

  • 1787 - The U.S. Constitution is ratified. It explicitly legitimizes the institution of slavery.
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