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Affirmative Action

7. Conclusion and Further Reading

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In this module, we provide a recap of the question we set out to answer (“Why have critics asserted that affirmative action should be declared unconstitutional?”) and some possible avenues to explore to come up with an answer – philosophical opposition to affirmation action, the limited jurisdiction of the federal government, the ‘redundancy’ of affirmative action, and the vagueness of affirmative action. After that, we outline some resources for further reading, including some more recent case law – Bostock v. Clayton County (2020), Altitude Express, Inc. v. Zarda (2020), R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (2020), Department of Commerce v. New York (2020) – and two books – Richard Rothstein’s The Colour of Law (2017) and Ira Katznelson’s When Affirmative Action was White (2005).


In this course, Dr Matthew Williams (University of Oxford) explores the concept of ‘affirmative action’ in the United States through the question ‘Why have critics asserted that affirmative action should be declared unconstitutional?’ In the first module, we introduce the question itself, before looking in more detail at the history of race relations in the United States and the idea of “unconstitutionality”. After that, in the second module, we think about why the judiciary is the only branch of government in the United States with the power to declare something “unconstitutional”, and how the Supreme Court obtained these powers. In the following four modules, we outline four potential arguments that critics of affirmative action have used to question its constitutionality – first, on the grounds of basic principles of political philosophy such as liberty and natural justice; second, on the grounds that the Supreme Court does not have the jurisdiction to enforce affirmative action; third, on the grounds that federally-enforced affirmative action is no longer needed; and fourth, on the grounds that the ends of affirmative actions are unacceptably vague. Finally, in the seventh module, we provide a brief recap of the question that we were considering and the different arguments that we considered in trying to answer it, before moving on to suggest some avenues for further reading.


Dr Matthew Williams is Access and Career Development Fellow at Jesus College, Oxford. His research focuses on the the language of politics, especially how the language of legislation has changed over the previous century. His recent publications include How Language Works in Politics: The Impact of Vague Legislation on Policy (2018).

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Williams, M. (2020, December 30). Affirmative Action - Conclusion and Further Reading [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Williams, M. "Affirmative Action – Conclusion and Further Reading." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 30 Dec 2020,