Study Guide

Equal Protection - Affirmative Action

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Affirmative Action

  • Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon first implemented "affirmative action" as federal government policy
  • In 1970s, courts sometimes ordered imposition of specific racial quotas to achieve desegregation

Affirmative action did not originate in the schools. The term was first used by President John Kennedy in 1961. In Executive Order 10925 he required that federal contractors "take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin." President Lyndon Johnson reiterated this obligation by Executive Order in 1965, and he attempted to quantify the obligation by requiring that contractors set "goals and timetables" for increasing minority hiring. Political pressure, however, forced Johnson to retract this demand. But in 1969, President Richard Nixon revived the idea in the "Philadelphia Order" aimed at increasing minority membership in the city's construction trades, and in 1970, he extended the requirement to all private companies with a federal government contract.

Meanwhile, the courts were turning to the use of quotas in order to break racial barriers when other methods proved ineffective. For example, in 1970, a federal court ordered Alabama's State Troopers to develop a plan for the recruitment and hiring of African Americans when it was demonstrated that the state agency did not employ a single black trooper. Eighteen months later, there were still no black troopers, so the court ordered the hiring of one African American for every white trooper hired until blacks constituted 25% of the force.

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