Controversial Topic: Affirmative Action

Controversial Topic: Affirmative Action

Affirmative action refers to an array of policies and practices aimed at redressing historical and ingrained inequalities, especially those experienced by people of color and women as a consequence of systemic discrimination. Affirmative action usually takes the form of education and employment initiatives aimed at creating access and opportunities for individuals from groups that have faced such discrimination. As a controversial topic, affirmative action divides those who believe this is an effective way to push back against the sociological impact of systemic discrimination versus those who believe affirmative action is either ineffective or is, itself, a discriminatory policy. The ongoing public controversy over affirmative action makes this a popular persuasive essay topic.

Affirmative action has historically been carried out through an array of institutions including government agencies, public services, law enforcement agencies, hospitals and universities. For a significant period of its implementation, affirmative action was carried out through the imposition of racial quotas, which, for instance, would require a university to admit, or require a corporation to hire, a certain percentage of applicants from groups which were deemed to have experienced systematic discrimination. In addition to reversing the impacts of discrimination, an intended goal of affirmative action was to improve the diversity and representation in universities and hiring companies such that they reflected the diversity of the communities and consumers they served.

LeVar Burton Teaches the Power of Storytelling
LeVar Burton Teaches the Power of Storytelling

Though racial quotas are no longer imposed-having been deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2003-affirmative action initiatives remain in place in many educational and hiring contexts, in most cases at the voluntary will of the institutions themselves. However, this remains a highly contentious political issue and debate topic, one in which:

  • Advocates for affirmative action argue that this policy is required to correct both the long history of discrimination against certain groups-including women, people of color, and select immigrant populations-as well as the persistence of implicit bias, systemic racism, and race-based privilege. Supporters of affirmative action-which tend to lean to the left, progressive, or Democratic side of the political spectrum-argue that initiatives aimed at reducing discrimination and improving diversity are necessary to redress historical and ongoing inequalities, and that such initiatives are protected by the U.S. Constitution; whereas
  • Opponents of affirmative action have stated a number of objections to such initiatives, arguing alternately that such policies are not effective in repairing inequalities; that they may have the effect of causing unintended discrimination by elevating the interests of one marginalized group over another; that affirmative action is inherently unconstitutional because it uses features such as race and gender to afford opportunities to one person over another; or that discrimination no longer constitutes a sociological problem which must be repaired. This array of arguments is most often held by those on the right, conservative, or Republican side of the political spectrum.

A Brief History of The Issue

The earliest incarnation of affirmative action could arguably be traced back to 1865. As the Civil War neared an end, and the Reconstruction Era appeared in sight, Union General William Tecumseh Sherman argued that it was incumbent upon the Confederacy to redress its abuses against freed slaves by creating opportunities for education and employment training. He also called for all freedmen to be given a share of their own land-an idea which formed the basis for the “40 acres and a mule” concept and which has long undergirded calls for reparations.

For a deeper dive on this subject, check out our look at the Reparations Controversy.

Such policies were extremely short-lived. As President, Andrew Johnson revoked any gains made by freed slaves. Those who were granted land soon saw their acreage revoked. However, 1868 did produce one critical long-term gain toward equality with the passage of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. The clause prohibited discrimination based on race, proclaiming that no state shall “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Though the end of Reconstruction and the onset of Jim Crow laws meant that the Equal Protection Clause did little to protect Southern Blacks from widespread, brutal and systemic discrimination, it did provide a legal basis for the aims of the Civil Rights movement as it gained steam across the next century.

The New Deal (1930s)

The phrase “affirmative action” was first used in the context of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, but did not refer to race or gender at all. The focus of the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, also referred to as the Wagner Act after sponsoring New York Senator Robert F. Wagner, was to improve economic security for low-income labor groups. Therefore, the Wagner Act made it illegal to discriminate against employees associated with labor unions.

The implementation of “affirmative action” meant that workers who had been either fired or blacklisted for union involvement would now be reinstated. Though the terminology was unrelated to demographic features at the time, it would provide some framework for policies aimed at compensating individuals who had been the victims of discrimination.

In a broader sense, Roosevelt explicitly stated his support for equal opportunity clauses through numerous New Deal acts, most of which contained the phrase “no discrimination shall be made on account of race, color or creed.” Under Roosevelt’s oversight, Interior Secretary Harold L. Ickes instituted what might be regarded as the first real affirmative action program by outlawing hiring discrimination for any projects funded by the Public Works Administration. Other New Deal initiatives would also require contractors to hire a specific percentage of Black employees, as well as instituting equal pay for women.

Most importantly, in 1941, Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802, making illegal any form of hiring discrimination in either the military or government agencies. Creating the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC), Roosevelt would build the foundation for the preliminary Civil Rights legislation that would emerge under his running mate and successor, Harry Truman. As President, Truman would share Roosevelt’s desire to advance equal opportunity for all Americans.

Truman and the Publication of “To Secure These Rights” (1940s)

Truman established the President’s Committee on Civil Rights which, in 1947, published a report called “To Secure These Rights.” The report asserted that “We can tolerate no restrictions upon the individual which depend upon irrelevant factors such as his race, his color, his religion, or the social position to which he is born.”

The text was widely read and is regarded by some as the blueprint for the progressive agenda of the next several decades, including its backing of the Civil Rights movement and the push for anti-discrimination policies in hiring and education. Truman also argued that a strong federal government was needed to protect individuals from discrimination at the state level.

In 1948, Truman addressed Congress as well as becoming the first sitting president to address the NAACP. He called for desegregation of the military and, shortly therefore after, issued Executive Orders 9980, which established the Civil Service Commission to ensure fair employment practices; Executive Order 9981, which formally desegregated the military; and, in 1951, Executive Order 10308, “which established an anti-discrimination committee on government contract compliance responsible for ensuring that employers doing business with the federal government comply with all laws and regulations enacted by Congress and the committee on the grounds of discriminatory practices.”

Eisenhower v. Kennedy (1950s and 1960s)

The 1952 election of Dwight D. Eisenhower brought to an end a 20 year Democratic run of the White House. And with his election, Eisenhower reaffirmed his commitment to states’ rights. While he continued to carry out the desegregation of the military, Eisenhower chose a position of non-intervention with state-level employment practices. This, in essence, meant that states with discriminatory hiring practices were left to their own resources.

During the 1960 election, candidate John F. Kennedy was highly critical of Eisenhower for not doing enough to advance Civil Rights causes. Kennedy argued that confronting discrimination required more proactive steps, including the establishment of a permanent Fair Employment Practices Commission. In March of 1961, only two months after taking office, President Kennedy issued Executive Order 10925, which imposed the responsibility upon government contractors to “consider and recommend additional affirmative steps which should be taken by executive departments and agencies to realize more fully the national policy of nondiscrimination.... The contractor will take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.”

This marked the first use of the “affirmative action” phrase in the context of a policy aimed at redressing racial discrimination. During his term, Kennedy continued his push to strengthen equal protection laws. In December of 1961, he created a Commission on the Status of Women to explore gender discrimination in labor, and in 1963, issued Executive Order 11114 which, building on Order 10925, required that any federal funds, including “grants, loans, unions and employers who accepted taxpayer funds, and other forms of financial assistance to state and local governments,” must be in compliance with the emergent affirmative action rules.

The Civil Rights Era and The Revised Philadelphia Plan (1964-1969)

Kennedy’s efforts would forge another stepping stone on the path to the Civil Rights movement, a period encapsulated by protest, demonstration, and violence between activists and police officers. You can learn more about this important period in history with a look at two closely related controversies: The Civil Rights Controversy and the Controversy over Police Brutality.

In addition to bringing greater attention to and support for the causes of Black Americans, the Civil Rights movement led to the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, which, among many others clauses, established Title VII prohibiting racial discrimination within hiring companies of more than 25 employees.

These conditions helped set the stage for a plan initially developed in a collaboration between the Office of Federal Contract Compliance and the Philadelphia Federal Executive Board. The plan was aimed at requiring government contractors based in Philadelphia to hire minority workers. The act was declared illegal in 1968, then reissued (and defended by the Nixon Administration) in 1969. As the Revised Philadelphia Plan, the policy set specific dates by which contractors had to meet quotas for hiring minority employees. Soon, other cities adopted the plan. This is, in many ways, the real starting point for the implementation of race-based affirmative action.

The Contractors Association of Eastern Pennsylvania challenged the order in 1971, claiming that it was both inconsistent with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and that it exceeded presidential authority in intervening with state-level policies. The U.S. Court of Appeals of the Third Circuit rejected the Association’s challenge, which was subsequently also refused by the Supreme Court.

Reagan’s Republican Revolution (1980s)

In many ways, President Reagan established the ideological template for the Republican Party of the next several generations. His stated opposition to affirmative action would prove the consistent policy orientation of the conservative movement and of most Republican candidates thereafter. Moreover, the president’s case for opposing affirmative action would emerge as a primary point of critique for future opponents of the policy.

Reagan indicated an opposition to discriminatory hiring polices, but argued that affirmative action was a form of “reverse discrimination.” This argument holds that elevating the interests of any race above another constitutes race-based discrimination, regardless of minority or majority status. This was the impetus under which Reagan reduced funding for the Equal Opportunity Commission.

Though Reagan expressed opposition to affirmative action, the policy was actually strengthened during his administration through two key Supreme Court decisions. Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association v. EEOC (1986) determined that courts had the constitutional right to fight discrimination by imposing race-based quotas on worker unions, and Johnson v. Transportation Agency, Santa Clara County, California (1987) ruled that employers were entitled to consider sex and race as hiring factors when evaluating qualified candidates.

Landmark Supreme Court Decisions (2000s)

During the 2000s, affirmative action concerns were increasingly concentrated around issues in higher education. During this period, support for, and opposition to, affirmative action became increasingly polarized along party lines. Accordingly, Presidents George W. Bush (2001-2008) and Donald Trump (2017-2020) generally opposed affirmative action whereas President Barack Obama (2009-2016) generally supported it.

However, most of the consequential events surrounding affirmative action occurred in the judiciary. It was here that 2003 became a landmark year both for opponents of affirmative action and for advocates. Accordingly, the Supreme Court found in Grutter v. Bollinger that the practice by which schools prioritize underrepresented minority groups in college admissions is constitutionally protected and consistent with the 14th Amendment. However, that same year, in Gratz v. Bollinger, the Supreme Court found that using actual racial quotas in college admissions is unconstitutional.

The elimination of racial quotas prompted a number of schools to establish their own voluntary “race-sensitive” admissions policies aimed at improving enrollment among underrepresented minorities through “good-faith” efforts.

2013 brought with it another important challenge around student admissions. According to the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit’s findings on Fisher v. University of Texas, the defendant’s undergraduate admissions policy met the test of strict scrutiny which must be applied in determining whether a race-sensitive admissions policy can be constitutional. The Supreme Court upheld this finding in 2016 and, in doing so, established the strict scrutiny test which is now seen as the standard for determining the constitutionality of such practices in educational settings.

Top Ten Historical Influencers in the Affirmative Action Debate

Using our own backstage Ranking Analytics tools, we’ve compiled a list of the most influential figures concerning the issue of affirmative action in the U.S. between 1900 and 2020. A few of the top influencers appearing in this ranking are scholars, sociologists, and policy-makers. However, given the critical importance of the legal case history surrounding affirmative action, it is unsurprising that the vast majority of influencers are Supreme Court Justices, specifically those who have written opinions on related cases.

Top Ten Historical Influencers in the Affirmative Action Controversy
1Thomas Sowell
2Sandra Day O’Connor
3Clarence Thomas
4Arthur Fletcher
5Ward Connerly
6Ruth Bader Ginsburg
7Antonin Scalia
8Sonia Sotomayor
9Anthony Kennedy
10William Rehnquist

Top Ten Most Influential Books About Affirmative Action

Using our own backstage Ranking Analytics tools, we’ve compiled a list of the most influential books on the topic of affirmative action in the U.S. between 1900 and 2020. This list is composed of political, sociological, and historical texts aimed at either opposing, supporting, or simply examining the subject of affirmative action.

Top Ten Most Influential Books About Affirmative Action
1Affirmative Action Around the World
2A Hope in the Unseen
3Race and Economics
4Applied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage One
5The Bell Curve
6Race Matters
7On Beauty
8A Conflict of Visions
9Democracy in America
10An American Dilemma
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The Current Controversy

Today, affirmative action is generally supported by judicial precedent, however it also remains a deeply divisive political subject. In fact, at the time of writing, nine sites in the U.S. have passed bans on the practice of affirmative action- California (1996), Washington (1998), Florida (1999), Michigan (2006), Nebraska (2008), Arizona (2010), New Hampshire (2012), Oklahoma (2012), and Idaho (2020).

Affirmative action policies continue to generate court challenges up to present day, especially around college admission issues. The organization Students for Fair Admissions-formed by conservative legal strategist Edward Blum-presented a case against Harvard University in 2019 claiming that its prioritization of Black students contributed directly to discrimination against Asian American candidates. A federal court in Boston rejected the claim.

The SFFA has sought an appeal with the First Circuit Court of Appeals and, at the time of writing, many observers believe this case could eventually reach the Supreme Court. The findings here could have a profound impact on the current legal standing of affirmative action policies in higher education.

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A Quick Overview of Our Method

Our goal in presenting subjects that generate controversy is to provide you with a sense of some of the figures both past and present who have driven debate, produced widely-recognized works of research, literature or art, proliferated their ideas widely, or who are identified directly and publicly with some aspect of this debate. By identifying the researchers, activists, journalists, educators, academics, and other individuals connected with this debate-and by taking a closer look at their work and contributions-we can get a clear but nuanced look at the subject matter. Rather than framing the issue as one side versus the other, we bring various dimensions of the issue into discussion with one another. This will likely include dimensions of the debate that resonate with you, some dimensions that you find repulsive, and some dimensions that might simply reveal a perspective you hadn’t previously considered.

On the subject of affirmative action, this requires us to consider related key terms such as “anti-discrimination” and “equal opportunity” as well as terms associated with the persistence of discrimination such as “glass ceiling.” We also consider key terms related to the opposition of affirmative action, both practically (“Project for Fair Representation”) and ideologically (“Mismatch Theory/Reverse Discrimination”).

Our InfluenceRanking engine gives us the power to scan the academic and public landscape surrounding the affirmative action issue using key terminology to identify consequential influencers. As with any topic that generates public debate and disagreement, this is a subject of great depth and breadth. We do not claim to probe either the bottom of this depth or the borders of this breadth. Instead, we offer you one way to enter into this debate, to identify key players, and through their contributions to the debate, to develop a fuller understanding of the issue and perhaps even a better sense of where you stand.

For a closer look at how our InfluenceRankings work, check out our methodology.

Otherwise get started with a look at the key words we used to explore this subject:

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Key Terms

Affirmative Action

The key term in our current discussion, “affirmative action” refers to policies calling for the elevation of underrepresented minorities and women in both education and employment as a way of countering the impact of historical discrimination and ongoing implicit bias. Key influencers include social scientists and policy-makers who have worked to implement measures of affirmative action, as well as prominent and successful beneficiaries of such policies.


  • Simon Schwartzman is a Brazilian social scientist. He has published extensively, with many books, book chapters, and academic articles in the areas of comparative politics, sociology of science, social policy, and education. In 1996, Schwartzman was awarded the Grand Cross of the Brazilian Order of Scientific Merit for his contributions to the cause and development of science in Brazil. In recent years, Schwartzman has written extensively on issues related to brain drain and brain circulation in the academic world, the Affirmative Action program in Brazilian higher education, and equity in education. He has been part of international teams of experts convened by OECD and The World Bank to advise governments on higher education, science and technology policies.
  • Maureen E. Mahoney is a former deputy solicitor general and an appellate lawyer at the law firm of Latham & Watkins in Washington, D.C., who has argued cases before the Supreme Court of the United States. Notably, she argued on behalf of the University of Michigan and its affirmative action program in Grutter v. Bollinger , in which the Court decided in favor of Michigan by a 5-4 vote.
  • Madeleine M. Joullié is a French-born American organic chemist. She was the first woman to join the University of Pennsylvania chemistry faculty as well as the first female organic chemist to be appointed to a tenure track position in a major American university. She was one of the first affirmative action officers at the University of Pennsylvania. She has a distinguished record as a teacher of both undergraduate and graduate-level organic chemistry, and as a mentor of students.
  • Milton Dean Slaughter is an American theoretical and phenomenological physicist and affiliate professor of physics at Florida International University. Slaughter was a visiting associate professor of physics in the Center for Theoretical Physics, University of Maryland, College Park while on sabbatical from Los Alamos National Laboratory of the University of California from 1984 to 1985. He is also chair emeritus and university research professor of physics emeritus at the University of New Orleans . Prior to joining UNO as chair of the physics department: He was a postdoctoral fellow in the LANL Theoretical Division Elementary Particles and Field Theory Group ; LANL Theoretical Division Detonation Theory and Applications Group staff physicist; LANL Theoretical Division affirmative action representative and staff physicist; LANL assistant theoretical division leader for administration and staff physicist ; LANL Nuclear and Particle Physics Group staff physicist-Medium Energy Physics Division ; and LANL Historically Black Colleges and Universities project manager .
  • Bryan Keith Fair is an American academic; his research has focused on race and constitutional law. Since 2000, he has been the Thomas E. Skinner Professor of Law at the University of Alabama School of Law. He presently serves as the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Southern Poverty Law Center. He is the author of Notes of a Racial Caste Baby: Colorblindness and the End of Affirmative Action. He completed his undergraduate studies at Duke University, and after studying law at the UCLA School of Law, was admitted to the California Bar in 1986.


The term “anti-discrimination,” in this context refers to policies and strategies aimed at undoing the impact of racial and gender discrimination in a wide range of public contexts including in education, armed services, public service, employment, and more. Key influencers include Civil Rights activists and legal experts.


  • Elizabeth Jean Peratrovich , was an American civil rights activist who worked on behalf of equality for Alaska Natives. In the 1940s, she was credited with advocacy that gained the passage of the territory’s Anti-Discrimination Act of 1945, the first anti-discrimination law in the United States. In March 2019, her obituary was added to The New York Times as part of their “Overlooked No More” series.
  • Alexander Michel Odeh was an Arab-American anti-discrimination activist who was assassinated in a bombing as he opened the door of his office at 1905 East 17th Street, Santa Ana, California. Odeh was west-coast regional director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.
  • Alfred Avins was an American lawyer, law professor, and dean. Born in New York City on June 29, 1934, Avins earned a bachelor’s degree from City University of New York, 1954, an Ll.B from Columbia Law School, 1956, his J.D. from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D from the University of Cambridge. His first book was The Law of AWOL. He was best known as a staunch opponent of Civil Rights legislation; he was the author of numerous articles that criticized anti-discrimination legislation or sought to limit its scope. He was also the author of The Reconstruction Amendments’ Debates: The Legislative History and Contemporary Debates in Congress on the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, which was designed to show the limited scope of the Reconstruction Amendments to support federal anti-discrimination legislation. It has proven a useful resource for some scholars looking into the history of the Reconstruction Amendments.
  • Elizabeth “Beth” Rickey was a leader in the anti-racism and anti-discrimination movement. Her efforts specifically focused on exposing former neo-Nazi and Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.

Glass Ceiling

The “glass ceiling” refers to the invisible barrier to professional advancement that women have faced in the workplace and which they continue to face in the form of unequal pay, harassment, and implicit bias. Influencers include those who have studied and exposed the existence of the glass ceiling as well as those who have taken pioneering professional steps to overcome or “shatter” that ceiling.


  • Eveleen Mary Weldon Severn , of Chicago, Illinois, was a philatelist who pioneered in breaking of the “glass ceiling” encountered by women in the ranks of philately, and founded the first women’s stamp club. She was the wife of Charles Esterly Severn.
  • Marilyn Loden is an American writer, management consultant, and diversity advocate who created the phrase “glass ceiling”. Loden was a featured enlist on the BBC series 100 Women where she discussed the role of gender discrimination in the workplace. She is an alumna of Syracuse University.
  • Louise Lamphere is a feminist anthropologist and Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico. She earned her Ph.D. from Harvard University. Her research interests have included feminist anthropology, gender, de-industrialization, and urban anthropology. She has published extensively on Native American issues, such as kinship and cooperation, and on issues such as working mothers, immigration and women’s lives and remains active in her advocacy on behalf of feminist causes.

Equal Opportunity

The core clause of the 14th Amendment, “Equal Opportunity” broadly denotes that all Americans should be afforded equal protection under the law and equal opportunity for education and employment regardless of race, religion, or gender. This is considered a foundational Constitutional condition in any and all cases involving any form of discrimination. Today, it may be invoked both by supporters of affirmative action who believe it protects the use of such policies, and by opponents, who argue that affirmative action deprives groups such as Asian Americans and white men of equal opportunity. Influencers, therefore, include activists and legal professionals who both support and oppose affirmative action.


  • Chai Rachel Feldblum was a Commissioner at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a former American law professor at Georgetown University Law Center, and an author and activist for disability rights and LGBT rights. In fall 2009, she was nominated to a position on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by President Barack Obama, in April 2010, she received a recess appointment to the EEOC, and in December 2010 she was confirmed to serve on the EEOC by the United States Senate. The Senate confirmed her in December 2013 for a second term on the Commission which expired in July 2018.
  • Keith E. Sonderling is an American lawyer and government official. He currently serves as the Vice Chair and Commissioner on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He also has served as the Acting and Deputy Administrator of the Wage and Hour Division of the United States Department of Labor. On July 3, 2019, President Donald J. Trump nominated him to become a member of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He was confirmed by the Senate on September 22, 2020 by a vote of 52-41. Prior to joining the Trump Administration in 2017, he practiced Labor and Employment Law at the Florida based Gunster Law Firm in West Palm Beach, Florida.
  • Reverend Robin Noelle Tanner is an American Unitarian Universalist minister notable for her activism for the causes of religious freedom and civil rights. Reverend Tanner is the Minister of Worship and Outreach at Beacon Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Summit. From 2010 to 2016, she was lead minister at the Piedmont Unitarian Universalist Church in Charlotte and Salisbury in North Carolina. Tanner is a lesbian who married her partner in 2014 and has performed marriage services for same-sex couples. In 2014, Tanner joined the United Church of Christ in an innovative lawsuit challenging prohibitions against marrying same-sex couples. This lawsuit took the novel position that the laws restricted the ministers’ freedom of religion. The suit was successful: On October 10, 2014, the federal district court for western North Carolina struck down the ban on same-sex marriage. Reverend Tanner also worked to overturn HB2 , the North Carolina law that was passed in March 2016 to ban individuals from using a public bathroom that does not match the person’s biological sex. The law also prevented cities from passing rules to protect gay and transgender people from discrimination. In spite of challenges and an apparent agreement between the city of Charlotte and the state to repeal both the Charlotte anti-discrimination ordinances and HB2, HB2 remains in effect. She is an advocate for equal opportunity, voting rights for Latino and African-Americans, raising the minimum wage, marriage equality, as well as other issues.
  • Richard Alton Graham was an American equal rights leader, one of the inaugural group of five members of the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He was the founding director of the National Teachers Corps He was also one of the founders of the National Organization for Women, becoming one of its initial officers.
  • Michael James Mousseau is a political scientist whose research and teaching is focused on international relations and comparative politics, in particular the link between economic conditions, institutions, and conflict. He is the creator of economic norms theory, which identifies how sustained and equal opportunity in a market can create popular interests in liberal democracy, and peace within and between nations. He advocates that wealthy countries make aggressive efforts towards bringing widespread economic opportunity to lesser developed countries, which he argues would result in a just and permanent global peace.

Project on Fair Representation

Largely selected as a key term for its involvement of a single figure, “Project on Fair Representation” was formed by Edward Blum, who consequently also formed the Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA). This group, through the efforts of the only influencer identified here below, is active in today’s most prominent legal challenges to affirmative action.


  • Edward Blum is a politically conservative legal strategist known for his activism against laws involving race and ethnicity. Blum is not an attorney. He connects potential plaintiffs with attorneys who are willing to represent them in “test cases” which he tries to use to set legal precedents. He is the director and sole member of the Project on Fair Representation, which he founded in 2005. According to its website, the Project focuses specifically on voting rights, education, government contracting, and employment. Since the 1990s, Blum has been heavily involved in bringing six cases to the United States Supreme Court, and the Court has partially or fully ruled in his favor in four of those cases. He is a key figure in the 2015 Federal complaints against Harvard University’s alleged discriminatory admission practices.

Mismatch Theory/Reverse Discrimination

The two key terms lumped together here-“Mismatch Theory” and “Reverse Discrimination”-are two frequently supplied objections to affirmative action. Mismatch theory reflects the view that this is not an effective policy response to discrimination and inequality, with its adherents arguing that affirmative action instead mismatches minority students with universities where they will ultimately struggle to fit in, succeed, or graduate. Reverse discrimination is another common claim made by opponents, who assert that it is not constitutional to prioritize one candidate over another-in employment or education-on the basis of race, regardless of minority status. Key influencers are generally opponents of affirmative action, but may also include those who have conducted research on the veracity of such claims.


  • Richard Henry Sander is a professor of law at the UCLA School of Law and a critic of affirmative action, primarily known for the mismatch theory.
  • John F. Kain was an American empirical economist and college professor. He is notable for first hypothesizing spatial mismatch theory, whereby he argued that there are insufficient job opportunities in low-income household areas. Kain is also notable for his focus on subordination and transport economics. As well as his research, he is also known for his long career of teaching at Harvard University and the University of Texas at Dallas, as well as founding the Texas Schools Project.
  • Fred L. Pincus is an American sociologist and emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, where he taught for 44 years. He is known for researching claims of reverse discrimination by whites and males.
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Influential Organizations Involved in the Affirmative Action Controversy

If you would like to study this topic in more depth, check out these key organizations...

Advocates for Affirmative Action

Opponents of Affirmative Action

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