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Racial quotas in employment and education are numerical requirements for hiring, promoting, admitting and/or graduating members of a particular racial group. Racial quotas are often established as means of diminishing racial discrimination, addressing under-representation and evident racism against those racial groups. However, it has been argued that such quotas are in themselves a form of racial discrimination; and therefore they are a contentious subject.
These quotas may be determined by governmental authority and backed by governmental sanctions. When the total number of jobs or enrollment slots is fixed, this proportion may get translated to a specific number. In education, this kind of quota is also known as Numerus clausus.
|The examples and perspective in this section deal primarily with the United States and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (July 2011)|
Racial quotas in the United States began to be implemented with government approval after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, especially during the 1970s. Richard Nixon's Labor Secretary George P. Schultz demanded that anti-black construction unions allow a certain number of black people into the unions. The Department of Labor began enforcing these quotas across the country. After a Supreme Court case, Griggs v. Duke Power Company, found that neutral application tests and procedures that still resulted in de facto segregation of employees (if previous discrimination had existed) were illegal, more companies began implementing quotas on their own.
In a 1973 court case, a federal judge created one of the first mandated quotas when he ruled that half of the Bridgeport, Connecticut Police Department's new employees must be either black or Puerto Rican. In 1974, the Department of Justice and the United Steelworkers of America came to an agreement on the largest-to-then quota program, for steel unions.
In 1978, the Supreme Court ruled in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke that public universities (and other government institutions) could not set specific numerical targets based on race for admissions or employment. The Court said that "goals" and "timetables" for diversity could be set instead. A 1979 Supreme Court case, United Steelworkers v. Weber, found that private employers could set rigid numerical quotas, if they chose to do so. In 1980, the Supreme Court found that a 10% racial quota for federal contractors was permitted.
Then in 1991, President George H. W. Bush made an attempt to abolish affirmative action altogether, maintaining that “any regulation, rule, enforcement practice or other aspect of these programs that mandates, encourages, or otherwise involves the use of quotas, preferences, set-asides or other devices on the basis of race, sex, religion or national origin are to be terminated as soon as is legally feasible."  This claim led up to the creation of the Civil Rights Act of 1991, however the document was not able to implement these changes. It only covered the terms for settling cases where discrimination has been confirmed to have occurred.
Opponents of quotas object that one group is favored at the expense of another whenever a quota is invoked rather than factors such as grade point averages or test scores. They argue that using quotas displaces individuals that would normally be favored based on their individual achievements. Opponents of racial quotas believe that qualifications should be the only determining factor when competing for a job or admission to a school. It is argued this causes "reverse discrimination" where individuals in the majority to lose out to a minority. Another critique of racial quotas is the process of reevaluating quota percentages after changes of racial ratios in a society.
Advocates of affirmative action programs often deny that these programs involve quotas, although some openly do, such as the admission program of the Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul. Advocates may regard the term "racial quotas" as particularly divisive in that it is assumed to be backed by the force of law to enable or disable certain linked programs or benefits based solely upon attainment of the one quota measure.[clarification needed]
The law student organization Building a Better Legal Profession has developed a method to encourage politically liberal students to avoid law firms whose racial makeup is markedly different than that of the population as a whole. In an October 2007 press conference reported in The Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times  the group released data publicizing the numbers of African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asian-Americans at America's top law firms. The group has sent information to top law schools around the country, encouraging students who agree with this viewpoint to take the demographic data into account when choosing where to work after graduation. As more students choose where to work based on the firms' diversity rankings, firms face an increasing market pressure to change theirs.