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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 or, the opposite, against the disadvantaged majority group (see numerus clausus or bhumiputra systems).
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.
Several laws enforcing racial segregation of foreigners were passed during the Tang dynasty. In 779 AD, the Tang dynasty issued an edict which forced Uighurs to wear their ethnic dress, and restricted them from marrying Chinese.
In 836 AD, Lu Chun was appointed as governor of Canton. He was disgusted to find Chinese living with foreigners and intermarriage. Lu enforced separation, banning interracial marriages, and prevented foreigners from owning properties. The 836 law specifically banned Chinese from forming relationships with "Dark peoples" or "People of colour", terms referring to foreigners, such as "Iranians, Sogdians, Arabs, Indians, Malays, Sumatrans", etc.
By 1935, the French government enacted a series of racial quotas on certain professions.
The National Origins Formula was an American system of immigration quotas, between 1921 and 1965, which restricted immigration on the basis of existing proportions of the population. The goal was to maintain the existing ethnic composition of the United States. It had the effect of giving low quotas to Eastern and Southern Europe.
Such racial quotas were restored after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, especially during the 1970s. Richard Nixon's Labor Secretary George P. Shultz 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 U.S. 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.
College admissions in the United States have had racial quotas; see Numerus clausus § United States for details. These have notably included blanket bans on African-Americans, Jewish quotas from 1918 to the 1950s, and an alleged Asian quota from the 1980s and ongoing as of 2017[update].
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.
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 from 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.