1977 September 6

President Carter Okays Affirmative Action, Opposes Quotas


The first major challenge to affirmative action, Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, was before the Supreme Court. The case provoked a bitter debate within President Jimmy Carter’s administration over what position to take in an amicus brief for the Court. (The administration was not a party to the case). Civil rights advocates wanted a strong position supporting quotas where necessary; others in the administration opposed quotas in principle. On this day, Carter stated his position in a handwritten note on a staff memorandum, indicating that he supported the concept of affirmative action but was opposed to quotas. (The memo is available at the Carter Presidential Library in Atlanta, Georgia.) The Court’s opinion in Bakke, on June 28, 1978, was very close to Carter’s position of supporting the use of race in college admissions but not rigid quotas.

Following Bakke, the Court continued to wrestle with the issue of affirmative action, and other race-based remedies (in school desegregation, for example) for over 30 years. The most recent case was Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, on April 22, 2014, in which the Court ruled that a Michigan state constitutional ban on affirmative action does not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Learn more about the Bakke case: Howard Ball, The Bakke Case: Race, Education, and Affirmative Action (2000)

Read about President Carter and civil rights and civil liberties: Samuel Walker, Presidents and Civil Liberties From Wilson to Obama (2012)

Learn more about affirmative action from the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights: http://www.civilrights.org/resources/civilrights101/affirmaction.html

See a timeline on affirmative action history: http://www.infoplease.com/spot/affirmativetimeline1.html

Learn more about Carter’s post-presidential work at the Carter Center: http://www.cartercenter.org/index.html

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