Within the context of the United States, affirmative action—in its broadest sense—is a series of laws and regulations intended to remedy historic discrimination against certain groups by extending special consideration to members of those groups, primarily in terms of educational and employment access. This has generally been accomplished by setting target goals for employment and admission of certain groups and creating outreach programs designed to recruit members of such groups.
Supporters of affirmative action contend that racism has become institutionalized in the United States and that, unless proactive steps are taken to address its consequences, members of some minority groups may be permanently and negatively impacted by discriminatory employment and educational policies.
Opponents believe that the target goals set by affirmative action are not significantly different from race-based quotas, which risk denying jobs to qualified persons not part of the target group in favor of lesser qualified persons who are members of the target group. They also contend that the legacy of racism in the United States has evolved since affirmative action was initially advanced, making affirmative action policies redundant and unnecessary.
According to the State University of New York, the Supreme Court has determined that affirmative action is illegal if
(1) an unqualified person receives benefits over a qualified one; (2) numerical goals are so strict that the plan lacks reasonable flexibility; (3) the numerical goals bear no relationship to the available pool of qualified candidates and could therefore become quotas; (4) the plan is not fixed in length; or (5) innocent bystanders are impermissibly harmed.