Regents of the University of California v. Bakke

Regents of the University of California v. Bakke

Litigants=Regents of the University of California v. Bakke
ArgueDate=October 8
DecideDate=June 28
FullName=Regents of the University of California v. Allan Bakke
Citation=98 S. Ct. 2733; 57 L. Ed. 2d 750; 1978 U.S. LEXIS 5; 17 Fair Empl. Prac. Cas. (BNA) 1000; 17 Empl. Prac. Dec. (CCH) P8402
Prior=Certiorari to the Supreme Court of California. Bakke v. Regents of University of Cal., 18 Cal. 3d 34, 132 Cal. Rptr. 680, 553 P.2d 1152, 1976 Cal. LEXIS 336 (1976)
Holding=The Court held that while affirmative action systems are constitutional, a quota system based on race is unconstitutional.
JoinMajority=White (Parts I, III-A, V-C only),
JoinMajority2=Brennan, Marshall, and Blackmun (Parts I and V-C only)
Concurrence/Dissent=Brennan, White, Marshall, Blackmun
JoinConcurrence/Dissent5=Burger, Stewart, Rehnquist

"Regents of the University of California v. Bakke", 438 U.S. 265 (1978) was a landmark decision of the Supreme Court of the United States on affirmative action. It bars quota systems in college admissions but affirms the constitutionality of affirmative action programs giving equal access to minorities.


Minority applicants to the University of California, Davis, Medical School went through a different admissions process than white applicants. Minority applicants who checked a box stating they wished to be considered as "economically and/or educationally disadvantaged" applicants were directed to the separate admissions committee. Minority applicants did not have to meet the 2.5 GPA requirements. Minority applicants competed for 16 seats out of 100 among each other and were insulated from competition from the white applicant pool. Several white applicants applied to the special program, but none received an offer of admission through the special program.

Allan Bakke, a white male medical student, applied to the school in 1973 and 1974 and was denied both times. In 1973 he had a benchmark score of 468 out of 500, but no regular applicants were admitted after him with a score below 470. Bakke, however, was not considered for four special admissions slots which had not yet been filled. Bakke wrote a letter of complaint to Dr. George H. Lowrey, the Associate Dean and Chairman of the Admissions Committee, complaining the special admissions program was not what it claimed to be (a program to help the underprivileged), but a racial and ethnic quota.

In 1974, Bakke again applied to the school and received a score of 549 out of 600. His lowest score of 86 was from Dr. Lowrey, who found Bakke "rather limited in his approach" to the problems of the medical profession, and was disturbed by Bakke's "very definite opinions, which were based more on his personal viewpoints than upon a study of the total problem". In both years that Bakke applied, minority applicants were admitted under the "special admissions" program with GPAs, MCAT scores, and benchmark scores significantly lower than Bakke's.

Bakke then filed suit in the Superior Court of California, seeking an injunction to allow him into the medical school claiming that the school had discriminated against him on the basis of his race and thus violated his rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the California Constitution, and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The California Supreme Court favored Bakke, in a vote of five to four, and the university appealed to the United States Supreme Court.


Handed down on June 23 1978, the decision of the Court was announced by Justice Lewis Powell. The court ruled 5-4 that race could be only one of numerous factors used by discriminatory boards, such as those of college admissions. Powell found that quotas insulated minority applicants from competition with the regular applicants and were thus unconstitutional because they discriminated against non-minority applicants. Powell, however, stated that universities could use race as a plus factor. He cited the Harvard College Admissions Program which had been filed as an "amicus curiae" as an example of a constitutionally valid affirmative action program which took into account all of an applicant's qualities including race in a "holistic review".

The decision was split with four justices firmly against all use of race in admissions processes, four justices for the use of race in university admissions, and Justice Powell, who was against the UC Davis Medical School quota system of admission, but found that universities were allowed to use race as a factor in admission. Title VI of the civil rights statute prohibits discrimination in any institution that receives federal funding. Burger, Stewart, Rehnquist, and Stevens supported this view and supported Bakke's side of the case. Brennan, Marshall, Blackmun, and White did not like this strict scrutiny and tolerated this violation because of the socio-political ramifications. The nature of this split opinion created controversy over whether Powell's opinion was binding. However, in 2003, in "Grutter v. Bollinger" and "Gratz v. Bollinger", the Supreme Court affirmed Powell's opinion, rejecting "quotas", but allowing race to be one "factor" in college admissions to meet the compelling interest of "diversity". After eight months, a vote of 5-4 decided that Bakke be admitted to the medical school at Davis.

ee also

*List of United States Supreme Court cases, volume 438


External links

* [ Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265 (1978)] (opinion full text).

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