The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

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The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  & The Leadership Conference Education Fund
The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

Equal Opportunity Timeline

Americans for a Fair Chance - January 1, 2004


  • President John F. Kennedy's Executive Order (E.O.) 10925 used equal opportunity for the first time by instructing federal contractors to take "affirmative action to ensure that applicants are treated equally without regard to race, color, religion, sex, or national origin." He also created the Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity.


  • Congress passed and President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964, landmark legislation prohibiting employment discrimination by large employers (more than 15 employees), whether or not they have government contracts. He also established the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).


  • President Johnson issued E.O. 11246, requiring all government contractors and subcontractors to take equal opportunity to expand job opportunities for minorities. He also established the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) in the Department of Labor to administer the order. 1966
  • President Johnson amended E.O. 11246 to include equal opportunity for women; federal contractors were now required to make good-faith efforts to expand employment opportunities for women and minorities.


  • The Supreme Court, in Green v. County School Board of New Kent County, Va., 391 U.S. 430 ruled that "actual desegregation" of schools in the South is required, effectively ruling out so-called school "freedom of choice" plans and requiring equal opportunity to achieve integrated schools.


  • The Department of Labor, under President Richard M. Nixon, issued Order No. 4, authorizing flexible goals and timetables to correct "underutilization" of minorities by federal contractors.


  • Order No. 4 was revised to include women.


  • President Nixon issued E.O. 11625, directing federal agencies to develop comprehensive plans and specific program goals for a national Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) contracting program.


  • The Nixon administration issued "Memorandum-Permissible Goals and Timetables in State and Local Government Employment Practices," distinguishing between proper goals and timetables and impermissible quotas.


  • The U.S. Supreme Court in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 912, upheld the use of race as one factor in choosing among qualified applicants for admission. At the same time, it also struck down the University of California's medical school's practice of reserving 18 seats for disadvantaged minority students in each entering class of 100


  • President Jimmy Carter issued E.O. 12138, creating a National Women's Business Enterprise Policy and requiring each agency to take equal opportunity to support women's business enterprises.
  • The Supreme Court ruled in United Steel Workers of America, AFL-CIO v. Weber, 444 U.S. 889 that race-conscious equal opportunity efforts designed to eliminate a conspicuous racial imbalance in an employer's workforce resulting from past discrimination are permissible if they are temporary and do not violate the rights of white employees.


  • The Supreme Court ruled in Fullilove v. Klutznick, 448 U.S. 448 that Congress has the power to require state and local construction projects, using federal funds, to reserve ten percent of those funds to purchase goods or services from minority business enterprises, in order to remedy past societal discrimination.


  • President Ronald Regan issued E.O. 12432, which directed each federal agency with substantial procurement or grant-making authority to develop a Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) development plan.


  • The Supreme Court determined in Firefighters Local Union No. 1784 v. Stotts, 467 U.S 561 that the district court exceeded its powers in entering an injunction that required white employees to be laid off, while the otherwise applicable seniority system would have called for the layoff of black employees with less seniority.


  • Efforts by some in the Reagan administration to repeal E.O. 11246 were thwarted by defenders of equal opportunity, including other Reagan administration officials, members of Congress from both parties, civil rights organizations, and corporate leaders.


  • The Supreme Court upheld a challenge to a policy regarding race-conscious layoffs in a local school district in Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education, 478 U.S. 1014. The policy provided that minority faculty in some instances would be retained over non-minority faculty with more seniority. The Court stated that the school's interest in diversity was not sufficient to warrant a race-conscious remedy as it pertained to layoffs.
  • The Supreme Court in Local 28 of the Sheet Metal Workers' International Association v. EEOC, 478 U.S. 421 upheld a judicially-ordered 29 percent minority "membership admission goal" for a union that had intentionally discriminated against minorities, confirming that courts may order race-conscious relief to correct and prevent future discrimination.


  • In United States v. Paradise, 480 U.S 149the Supreme Court upheld a one-for-one promotion requirement (i.e., for every white candidate promoted, a qualified African American would also be promoted) in the Alabama Department of Public Safety, finding it to be narrowly tailored and necessary to eliminate the effects of Alabama's long-term discrimination, which the lower court had found "blatant and continuous."
  • The Supreme Court ruled in Johnson v. Transportation Agency, Santa Clara County, Calif., 480 U.S. 616 that a severe under-representation of women and minorities justified the use of race or sex as "one factor" in choosing among qualified candidates.


  • The Supreme Court in City of Richmond v. J.A. Cronson Co., 488 U.S. 469 struck down Richmond, Va.'s minority contracting program as unconstitutional, requiring that a state or local equal opportunity program be supported by a "compelling interest," and be narrowly tailored to ensure that the program furthers that interest.
  • In a series of decisions (Wards Cove Packing Co. v. Atonio, 493 U.S. 802, and Patterson v. McLean Credit Union, 491 U.S. 164), the Supreme Court dramatically cut back the circumstances under which victims of alleged job discrimination could bring and win cases.


  • In Metro Broadcasting, Inc. v. FCC, 497 U.S. 547 the Supreme Court upheld programs that take race into account with the goal of furthering diversity. Further, the Supreme Court also ruled that equal opportunity plans adopted by Congress, rather than a state, are not subject to strict scrutiny but something less.


  • In United States v. Fordice, 505 U.S. 717 the Supreme Court ruled that race neutral policies are insufficient to fulfill a state's affirmative obligation to dismantle a system of established segregation.


  • In Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Peña, 513 U.S. 1012 the Supreme Court ruled that a federal equal opportunity program remains constitutional when narrowly tailored to accomplish a compelling government interest such as remedying discrimination.
  • The Supreme Court declined to review Podberesky v. Kirwan, letting stand the Fourth Circuit's decision in the case, which declared unconstitutional a merit-based scholarship program for African American students at the University of Maryland. The Fourth Circuit found that despite present-day effects of past discrimination, the program was not sufficiently narrowly tailored.


  • President Bill Clinton reviewed all equal opportunity guidelines by federal agencies and declared his support for equal opportunity programs by announcing the administration's policy of "mend it, don't end it."
  • Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and Rep. Charles Canady (R-Fla.) introduced the so-called Equal Opportunity Act in Congress. The act would prohibit race- or gender-based equal opportunity in all federal programs. The bill died in the House during the same session.
  • The Regents of the University of California voted to end equal opportunity programs at all University of California campuses. Beginning in 1997 for graduate schools and 1998 for undergraduate admissions, officials at the university were no longer allowed to use race, gender, ethnicity, or national origin as a factor in admissions processes.
  • The bipartisan Glass Ceiling Commission released a report on the endurance of barriers that deny women and minorities access to decision-making positions, and issued a recommendation “that corporate America use equal opportunity as a tool ensuring that all qualified individuals have equal access and opportunity to compete based on ability and merit.”


  • California’s Proposition 209 passed (54-46) by a narrow margin in the November election. Proposition 209 abolished all public-sector equal opportunity programs in the state in employment, education, and contracting. Clause (C) of Proposition 209 permits gender discrimination that is “reasonably necessary” to the “normal operation” of public education, employment, and contracting.
  • In Texas v. Hopwood, 518 U.S. 1033 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled against the University of Texas, deciding that the law school’s policy of considering race in the admissions process was a violation of the Constitution’s equal-protection guarantee. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of the ruling because the program at issue was no longer in use.


  • Voters in Houston, Texas, supported equal opportunity programs in city contracting and hiring by rejecting an initiative that would banish such efforts. Houston proved that the wording on an initiative is a critical factor in influencing voters’ response. Instead of deceptively focusing attention on “preferential treatment,” voters were asked directly if they wanted to “end affirmative action programs.” They said no.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge to California’s Proposition 209. By declining to review the case, the Court let stand the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruling, which allowed Proposition 209 to go into effect.
  • The U.S. House Judiciary Committee voted 17 to 9 across party lines to defeat legislation aimed at dismantling federal equal opportunity programs for women and minorities. Rep. George Gekas (R-Pa.), who moved to table the bill, said that the bill was “useless and counterproductive.” He said, “I fear that forcing the issue at this time could jeopardize the daily progress made in ensuring equality.”
  • Bill Lann Lee was appointed acting assistant attorney general for civil rights at the Department of Justice, after facing opposition to his confirmation because of his support for equal opportunity when he worked for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
  • Lawsuits were filed against the University of Michigan (Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger) and the University of Washington Law School (Smith v. University of Washington Law School) regarding their use of equal opportunity policies in admissions standards.
  • In response to Hopwood, Texas passed the Texas Ten Percent Plan, which ensures that the top ten percent of all students at all high schools in Texas have guaranteed admission to the University of Texas and Texas A&M system, including the two flagships, UT Austin and A&M College Station.


  • Both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate thwarted attempts to eliminate specific equal opportunity programs. Both houses rejected amendments to abolish the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program funded through the transportation bill, and the House rejected an attempt to eliminate use of equal opportunity in admissions in higher education programs funded through the Higher Education Act.
  • The ban on the use of equal opportunity in admissions at the University of California schools went into effect. UC Berkeley had a 61 percent drop in admissions of African American, Latinos, and Native American students, and UCLA had a 36 percent decline.
  • Voters in Washington State passed Initiative 200, banning equal opportunity in higher education, public contracting, and hiring.


  • Many circuit courts throughout the country heard cases regarding equal opportunity in higher education, including the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in Texas (Texas v. Hopwood), the Sixth Circuit in Michigan (Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger), the Ninth Circuit in Washington (Smith v. University of Washington Law School), and the Eleventh Circuit in Georgia (Johnson v. University of Georgia, Board of Regents). The same district court in Michigan made two different rulings regarding equal opportunity in Michigan, with one judge deciding that the undergraduate program was constitutional while another judge found the law school program unconstitutional.
  • The Florida legislature passed the “One Florida” Plan, banning equal opportunity. The program also included the Talented 20 Percent Plan that guarantees the top 20 percent of high school graduates admission to the University of Florida system.
  • In an effort to promote equal pay, the U.S. Department of Labor promulgated new equal opportunity regulations including an Equal Opportunity Survey, which requires federal contractors to report hiring, termination, promotions, and compensation data by minority status and gender. This is the first time in history that employers had been required to report information regarding compensation by gender and minority status to the federal equal employment agencies.
  • The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit issued an opinion in Adarand Constructors v. Mineta, 228 F3d 1147 and ruled that the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise as administered by the Department of Transportation was constitutional because it served a compelling government interest and was narrowly tailored to achieve that interest. The court also analyzed the constitutionality of the program in use when Adarand first filed suit in 1989 and determined that the previous program was unconstitutional. Adarand then petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari.


  • In Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Mineta,534 U.S. 103 the Supreme Court dismissed the case as “improvidently granted,” thereby letting stand the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit’s decision, which upheld the government’s revised federal contracting program. In 2000, the Tenth Circuit ruled that the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program, as administered by the Department of Transportation, was constitutional because it served a compelling government interest and was narrowly tailored to achieve that interest.
  • California enacted a new plan allowing the top 12.5 percent of high school students’ admission to the UC system, either for all four years or after two years outside the system, and guaranteed the top 4 percent of all high school seniors’ admission into the UC system.


  • The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit handed down its decision in Grutter v. Bollinger, 288 F.3d 732 on May 14, and upheld the constitutionality of using race as one of many factors in making decisions at the University of Michigan’s Law School.


  • On June 23, the Supreme Court reaffirmed that universities may take race into consideration as one factor among many factors when selecting incoming students. In a 5 to 4 opinion written by Justice O’Connor, the Supreme Court in Grutter v. Bollinger, 124 S.Ct. 35 supported the University of Michigan Law School’s equal opportunity program and specifically endorsed Justice Powell’s view in 1978’s Regents of the University of California v. Bakkethat student body diversity is a compelling state interest that can justify using race in university admissions. The Supreme Court thus resolved a split among the lower courts as to Bakke’s value as binding precedent.
  • On June 23, the Supreme Court also ruled in Gratz v. Bollinger, 537 U.S. 1044, 6 to 3, upholding the value of student body diversity but deciding that the use of race in the University of Michigan undergraduate school’s equal opportunity program was not narrowly tailored to achieve the university's asserted interest in diversity. The undergraduate program used a system that assigned points for certain factors such as geography, legacy/alumni relationships, including race, while the law school took a more holistic approach, resulting in an overall score for each applicant.
  • On July 8, in a swift reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision on Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger, University of California Regent Ward Connerly announced his intention to launch a Michigan state-wide initiative to prohibit equal opportunity in education, employment, and contracting. Connerly was also the architect of California’s Proposition 209 (1996) and Washington state’s Initiative-200 (1998), which ended the use of equal opportunity in higher education, public contracting, and hiring, in those states.
  • On October 7, California voters overwhelmingly rejected Proposition 54, the so-called “Racial Privacy Initiative” which would have banned the collection of race- and ethnicity-related data by state and local government agencies. The ballot campaign, led by Ward Connerly, was a far-reaching attempt to further an ultra-conservative goal of eradicating equal opportunity and equity in all areas of society, including the delivery of health care.
  • Center for Equal Opportunity, an anti-equal opportunity/affirmative action organization, continues to file complaints against colleges and universities in targeted areas, in an attempt to discourage them from developing or continuing with their equal opportunity programs.


  • Michigan voters passed the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI), also called Proposal 2, on November 7, 2006, which bans "the use of affirmative action programs that give preferential treatment" in state contracting, employment, and higher education. The proposal became law on December 22, 2006, making Michigan the third state to ban equal opportunity.


  • Connerly tried to pass anti-equal opportunity ballot initiatives in five states – Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska, and Oklahoma. In November 2008, voters in Colorado rejected Amendment 46 (49 percent - 51 percent), becoming the first state to vote down a Connerly anti-equal opportunity ballot initiative. Connerly's initiatives failed to make the ballot in Arizona, Missouri, and Oklahoma.
  • Nebraska voters passed Initiative 424 (58 percent - 42 percent), making Nebraska the fourth state to ban equal opportunity.


  • Judge Sam Sparks of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas ruled in favor of the University of Texas at Austin's admissions policy, in which race is only part of the consideration process for students' admission to the university. The case, Fisher v. Texas, was the first major challenge to the U.S. Supreme Court's 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger.


  • In February, Equal opportunity supporters in Missouri were able to keep a proposed ballot initiative that would have amended the state's constitution to eliminate equal opportunity programs in higher education, employment, and contracting off the 2010 ballot. A few weeks later, the Utah legislature failed to pass a resolution to place a similar measure on its 2010 ballot.
  • On November 2, Arizona voters passed Proposition 107, a ballot initiative to amend the Arizona constitution to eliminate equal opportunity programs in public higher education, employment and contracting, by a vote of 60 percent to 40 percent. Arizona became the fifth state to ban equal opportunity.


  • On January 18, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the constitutionality of University of Texas at Austin's (UT Austin) admissions policy, which considers race as one of several factors, affirming the district court's 2009 ruling.


  • On November 6, Oklahoma voters approved State Question 759, banning affirmative action measures in state government hiring, public contracting, and higher education. The measure passed by a vote of 59 to 41 percent and amends the state constitution to prohibit any consideration of race, gender, ethnicity, and national origin by the state government.


  • In its 7-1 Fisher v. Texas decision on June 24, the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed that universities may consider racial and ethnic diversity as one factor among many in a carefully crafted admissions policy. The Court determined, however, that the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals did not sufficiently address the issue of strict scrutiny when it affirmed the district court’s ruling in favor the University of Texas (UT). Consequently, the Court remanded the case back to the Fifth Circuit to reconsider the evidence under that standard. On November 13, a three-judge panel of the circuit court revisited the case.


  • In a 6-2 decision today in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action (companion case Schuette v. Cantrell), the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeal's ruling and upheld a Michigan voter initiative that bans the practice of race-conscious admissions to the state's public universities. The case followed Michigan’s passage in 2006 of Proposal 2, a ballot initiative that amended the state constitution to prohibit the consideration of race, gender, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the areas of public employment, public education, and public contracting.

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