1969 August 8

President Nixon Extends Affirmative Action in Federal Employment


President Richard Nixon extended affirmative action in federal agencies through Executive Order 11478 on this day. Many people are surprised at this action because of Nixon’s reputation as being hostile to civil rights. In fact, however, Nixon’s attitudes on race and civil rights issues were very complex, and he supported a number of policies in support of African-Americans, notably, his idea of “Black Capitalism”.

President Lyndon Johnson had first enunciated affirmative action as federal policy on September 24, 1965, with Executive Order 11246. Because of Nixon’s action and several others that were more consistent with liberal Democratic Party policies, a rising group of neoconservatives criticized him at the time and denounced him later. The most prominent member of this group in the Nixon administration was Senior Adviser Pat Buchanan.

The Supreme Court first addressed affirmative action in the case of Regents of the University of California v. Bakke on June 28, 1970. In that case, it ruled that Mr. Bakke, who was white, had been discriminated against by the university’s affirmative action plan, but that the university could take race into account in admissions. Thirty-four years later, a more conservative court upheld the constitutionality of a state of Michigan constitutional ban on affirmative action in Schuette v. Coalition to defend Affirmative Action on April 22, 2014.

Nixon’s Executive Order: Section 1. “It is the policy of the Government of the United States to provide equal opportunity in Federal employment for all persons, to prohibit discrimination in employment because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, handicap, or age, and to promote the full realization of equal employment opportunity through a continuing affirmative program in each executive department and agency. This policy of equal opportunity applies to and must be an integral part of every aspect of personnel policy and practice in the employment, development, advancement, and treatment of civilian employees of the Federal Government.”

Read Nixon’s full Executive Order 11478:

Learn more about Nixon on 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

Learn more at a timeline on affirmative action: http://www.infoplease.com/spot/affirmative1.html

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