Affirmative action is the process of favoring candidates of certain classifications for job offers or college admissions. Opponents of affirmative action contend that the process amounts to reverse discrimination and actually hurts the individuals the process seeks to help. Supporters of affirmative action contend that the policy allows for greater diversity in the workplace or university and allows for greater opportunities for more disadvantaged minorities. The Supreme Court has decided multiple times on the constitutionality of affirmative action.
An early case dealing with affirmative action is the 1978 Regents of the University of California v. Bakke. Allan P. Bakke sought admission to the University of California's medical school but was denied both times. He believed that the racial quotas of the university – which set aside a certain amount of seats for minorities – violated the Civil Rights Act. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Bakke and struck down the usage of the quota system as unconstitutional. Even though the Supreme Court recognized the government's interest in ensuring racial diversity, the university went too far by using quotas since it would amount to a violation under the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The Supreme Court however sustained that race could still be used in consideration of admitting an individual in this context.
The 2003 Gratz v. Bollinger saw a challenge against the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions process. The university admitted students if they achieved above 100 on a scale using multiple factors. One of the factors was race, by which a minority applicant garnered an automatic 20 points. The Supreme Court struck down the admissions program because the points system amounted to a racial quota. The companion case Grutter v. Bollinger upheld the usage of race as part of other factors under the admissions practice. Through Gratz and Grutter, the Supreme Court has been clear on not allowing any form of racial quotas but allowing for race to be considered as a factor when applying to colleges.
A recent case regarding affirmative action was the 2015 Fisher v. University of Texas. Abigail Fisher claimed that the usage of race as a factor in admissions violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. The Supreme Court rejected Fisher's claim that the admissions process violated her rights. The Supreme Court reasoned that the process intended to ensure diversity by using race as a factor, and thus, it didn't violate the Equal Protection Clause.