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THE BAKKE CASE: Is Affirmative Action Necessary and Legal, or Does It Violate the U.S. Constitution?
In 1978, the U.S. Supreme Court considered the legality of affirmative action programs, which are designed to provide extra opportunity to members of certain historically disadvantaged groups based on race, ethnicity, and other factors. In what became known as the Bakke case, a white man named Allan Bakke, who had been denied admission to the medical school at the University of California at Davis, sued, claiming that he had been unfairly rejected in favor of less-qualified applicants who were black. Supporters of affirmative action argued that the programs were legal and necessary both to overcome centuries of discrimination, prejudice, and segregation and to promote diversity. The only way to ensure racial equality in the future, they contended, was to temporarily take race into account to provide greater access to members of certain minority groups. Opponents of affirmative action, however, argued that the programs violated both the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by basing admissions decisions on people’s race and giving members of minority groups special treatment. These programs, they contended, amounted to “reverse discrimination,” in which whites were denied opportunities because of the color of their skin.
Let your students get the facts and decide for themselves: Are affirmative action programs consistent with the U.S. Constitution and necessary to promote diversity and redress past discrimination against members of minority groups? Or do they violate the U.S. Constitution and amount to “reverse discrimination” against whites? Be sure to check out Issues & Controversies in American History’s clear and unbiased examination of the Bakke case this month.
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