Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Affirmative Action Definition:

A reverse discrimination law, program or activity that has as its object the amelioration of conditions of individuals who are socially or economically disadvantaged.

Related Terms: Discrimination

A reverse discrimination law, program or activity that has as its object the amelioration of conditions of individuals who are socially or economically disadvantaged such as, for example, extending preferential treatment in regards to employment or education.

In Discrimination and Reverse Discrimination, Kent Greenewalt wrote that affirmative action is:

".. a phrase that refers to atempts to bring members of underrepresented groups, usually groups that have suffered discrimination, into a higher degree of participation in some beneficial program."

In the USA Supreme Court, defering to the nomenclature of "remedial racial classifications", and in Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Pena:

"All racial classifications, imposed by whatever federal, state, or local governmental actor, must be analyzed by a reviewing court under strict scrutiny. In other words, such classifications are constitutional only if they are narrowly tailored measures that further compelling governmental interests."

In United Steelworkers v Weber, the US Supreme Court, in 1979, the Court contrasted affirmative action against civil rights guarantees:

Affirmative Action"We need not today define in detail the line of demarcation between permissible and impermissible affirmative action plans. It suffices to hold that the challenged ... affirmative action plan falls on the permissible side of the line. The purposes of the plan mirror those of the statute. Both were designed to break down old patterns of racial segregation and hierarchy. Both were structured to 'open employment opportunities for Negroes in occupations which have been traditionally closed to them'.

"At the same time, the plan does not unnecessarily trammel the interests of the white employees. The plan does not require the discharge of white workers and their replacement with new black hirees. Nor does the plan create an absolute bar to the advancement of white employees; half of those trained in the program will be white. Moreover, the plan is a temporary measure; it is not intended to maintain racial balance, but simply to eliminate a manifest racial imbalance. Preferential selection of craft trainees ... will end as soon as the percentage of black skilled craftworkers ... approximates thepercentage of blacks in the local labor force."

Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, at §6(4) defines affirmative action as:

"... law, program or activity that has as its object the amelioration in a province of conditions of individuals in that province who are socially or economically disadvantaged if the rate of employment in that province is below the rate of employment in Canada."

Quebec's Affirmative Action Regulation describes affirmative action as:

"The object of an affirmative action program is to remedy the situation of any group subject to discrimination as prohibited by section 10 of the Charter, particularly women, members of cultural communities, the handicapped and Native peoples."

In Watson v. Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, the Nova Scotia Supreme Court remarked that:

"Affirmative action programs are constitutionally lawful as an exercise designed to acknowledge and rectify the exclusion from the economic mainstream of society, women and members of minorities."


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