A Legacy of Discrimination: The Essential Constitutionality of Affirmative Action

A Legacy of Discrimination: The Essential Constitutionality of Affirmative Action


Publication Date





A timely defense of affirmative action policies that offers a more nuanced understanding of how centuries of invidious racism, discrimination, and segregation in the United States led to and justifies such policies from both a moral and constitutional perspective.

Since 1961, the issue of "affirmative action" has been a hotly contested legal and political issue. Intended to address our nation's often horrifying discrimination against Black Americans and other minorities, affirmative action has led over the past sixty years to far greater minority representation across a vast range of industries, government positions, and academic institutions. Nonetheless, affirmative action policies in the United States continue to fall under assault.

In A Legacy of Discrimination, Lee C. Bollinger and Geoffrey R. Stone, two of America's leading constitutional scholars, trace the policy's history and the legal challenges it has faced over the decades. They argue that in order to fully comprehend affirmative action's original intent and impact, we must re-acquaint ourselves with the era in which it arose, beginning with the most important Supreme Court decision of the 20th century, 1954's Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. Assessing this history, Bollinger and Stone introduce subsequent, and evolving, affirmative-action case law that had the intent and effect of constraining social, educational, and economic progress for Black people and other minority groups. They demonstrate how and why affirmative action policies stand on firm legal ground and must remain protected. Further, they explain why Americans must view affirmative action as a long-term moral commitment to secure justice, especially for Black Americans, after three and a half centuries of grave injustice that violates the most essential aspirations of our nation.

A timely and robust overview of the history of our nation's historical and continuing racial discrimination and of the advent of affirmative action as a critical means to address this history, this book will serve as a powerful defense of a policy that has accomplished more than most people realize in making America a fairer and more inclusive country.


Constitutional Law | Law | Law and Society | Race and Ethnicity




Oxford University Press


New York, NY


"In this brilliant history and reassessment of our still unfinished journey of race, two of America's most perceptive students of that history and its legal dimensions, President Lee Bollinger of Columbia University and Professor Geoffrey Stone, formerly Dean of the Chicago Law School, put the long-simmering affirmative action debate in its urgent current context and reframe that debate in terms more faithful to what is truly at stake. Anyone concerned about our nation's fate must read what these two chroniclers of our past and prognosticators of our future have to say."
Laurence H. Tribe, Carl M. Loeb University Professor and Professor of Constitutional Law Emeritus, Harvard Law School

"This brilliant and timely book by two of America's greatest educators powerfully resurfaces the original, moral rationale for Affirmative Action: racial justice. It's a startlingly fresh and clarifying book that more than any writing I have seen, roots the discussion of Affirmative Action in basic truths about American history and society. It will change the landscape of these debates, and, as the Supreme Court, with a conservative majority, visits this issue yet again, this is the book to read."
Claude Steele, Lucie Sterns Professor Emeritus of Psychology, Stanford University

"A vital text for our national discourse on race and higher education, A Legacy of Discrimination will grant those unfamiliar with affirmative action's history a rigorously clear accounting of its past and current outcomes and instill all readers with a greater understanding of its potential to remedy systemic racial injustice."
Elizabeth Alexander, President, Mellon Foundation

"An important book, one that goes to fundamentals. Bollinger and Stone urge that all of us—including the Supreme Court — should see affirmative action as a legitimate response to a legacy of discrimination. Timely, bold, and terrific."
Cass Sunstein, Robert Walmsley University Professor, Harvard University

"It is not surprising that Bollinger and Stone — two widely-respected legal scholars with deep expertise in higher education — have written a clear and insightful book that lays out a strong case for affirmative action as a much-needed remedy to achieve racial justice. This book is for legal scholars, policy practitioners, higher education leaders, and anyone with an interest in the history and consequences of the legacy of racial discrimination in the United States."
Christina H. Paxson, President, Brown University


Also available as an eBook through the Columbia University Libraries.

A Legacy of Discrimination: The Essential Constitutionality of Affirmative Action


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