Obama and Romney on affirmative action

By Katherine Johnson

Affirmative action has been in place since President Lyndon B Johnson’s term in 1965. It was enforced during a time of racial discrimination, in which employers could deny someone a job based on their race. Today, however, it has expanded to stop discrimination based on gender, religion, race or sexual orientation in the workplace and education.

Obama recently stated his views on affirmative action when the Supreme Court decided to hear a case on it. In Fisher v. University of Texas, a woman is arguing that she was denied admission based on her race. Obama’s administration urged the court to uphold affirmative action because, “considering race when admitting students to universities makes a critical contribution to the function of the federal government” (Kopan). Obama also thinks a student’s financial status should be taken into consideration.

However, Obama has been criticized for not discussing affirmative action enough. In his article, Kopan says, “President Barack Obama and his administration rarely discuss issues of race or race-based government action in public, despite or because of Obama’s status as America’s first black president.” While in office, Obama did issue new guidelines on the use of race in education.

Governor Romney hasn’t directly spoken about affirmative action in his campaign, but it was hinted at in the second debate. Romney answered a workplace equality question by saying he wanted more women in his cabinet when he was governor of Massachusetts. He used the phrase, “binders full of women,” which gained attention quickly on the Internet.

Although some observers thought Romney’s remarks were offensive, others argue that he showed his support for affirmative action by seeking out women for higher positions. Romney could boast that “his staff had more women in senior leadership positions than any other state,” according to Alana Semuel’s article in the Los Angeles Times.

As governor of Massachusetts, Romney signed an executive order that cut the Office of Affirmative Action, according to Andrew Miga’s article from the Huffington Post. The office was replaced with a state diversity office. Romney was criticized for making the change without consultation. He later “had state officials effectively follow the old affirmative action policies he had formally revoked with his executive order,” in response, Miga said. Miga adds that, “Romney has said he supports workplace diversity but opposes quotas in hiring, government contracting, school admissions and the like.”

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