published on October 8, 2019
Frank J. Costa
The Restorative Proportionality Theory
A New Approach to Affirmative Action
This article offers a normative framework for affirmative action. It argues that affirmative action is not about diversity, but correcting historical injustice. The theory’s presumption is that racial groups would perform equally if not for history, because talent and hard work do not vary by race. The article explores the implications of that premise in answering the most provocative criticisms of affirmative action. Should white students pay for historical wrongs? Should African immigrants benefit from affirmative action? Are Asian Americans unfairly disadvantaged? The article proposes proportional representation as a limiting principle of affirmative action, because preferential treatment beyond proportionality contradicts the theory’s presumption of equal performance. The article proceeds to argue that some groups, like Asian Americans, rebut the presumption by fairly outperforming others and should not be penalized. Finally, the article argues that groups should not be classified on race per se, rather on a shared experience of injustice.