When The Remedy went to press in early 1996, it made a moral, legal, and political argument for basing affirmative action preferences on class disadvantage rather than on race or gender. A year later, the moral case remains unchanged, but the political and legal cases are substantially stronger. As support for race- and gender-based programs has continued to erode, the need to look to alternatives, like class-based affirmative action, has become more pressing.
Indeed, the events of 1996-97 have boosted the prospects of class-based affirmative action on both the left and the right. As affirmative action programs fell under attack, from California to Texas to Colorado, Louisiana, and New Jersey, liberals began quietly to explore new alternatives to expanding opportunity. As race and gender preferences grew increasingly unpopular, some liberals realized they needed to propose alternative programs if they were to achieve 51 percent support.
For a different set of reasons, the threat to race- and gender- based affirmative action prompted many prominent conservatives to embrace openly need-based remedies as a logical alternative. Cognizant that many Americans might balk at a cold-turkey abolition of affirmative action, these conservatives committed themselves to a program that would not naturally be part of their agenda.
Among the varied assaults on affirmative action programs, the most successful was passage in November 1996 of the California Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI), to eliminate publicly-sponsored