Regents of the University of California v. Bakke: Racial College Admissions (06/26/1978)


Regents of the University of California v. Bakke

Did the University of California violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, by practicing an affirmative action policy that resulted in the repeated rejection of Bakke’s application for admission to its medical school?

Argued: 10/12/1977

Decision Date: 06/26/1978

Decision Record: 5-3; yes and no

Justices Plurality: Warren Burger, William Brennan, Potter Stewart, Thurgood Marshall, Harry Blackmun, Lewis Powell, William Rehnquist, John Paul Stevens

Justices Dissenting: Byron White

Effect of the Decision

This case upholds that colleges cannot decide admissions solely on the basis of race.

In Favor

In representation of the University of California, attorney Archibald Cox argued, “Whether the State — whether a state university which is forced by limited resources to select a relatively smaller number of students from a much larger number of well-qualified applicants is free voluntarily to take into account the fact that a qualified applicant is black, Chicano, or Asian, or Native American in order to increase the number of qualified members of those minority groups trained for the educated professions and participating individual, professions from which minorities were long excluded because of generations of pervasive racial discrimination.

The answer which the court gives was determined perhaps for decades whether members of those minorities are to have the kind of meaningful access to higher education in the profession which the universities have accorded them in recent years ought are to be reduced to the trivial numbers which they were prior to the adoption of minority admissions programs.

The three facts realities which dominated the situation that the Medical School of Davis had before it and which I think this control the decision of this Court.

The first is that the number of qualified applicants for the nation’s professional schools is vastly greater than the number of places available.

That is a fact and an inescapable fact.

In 1975, 1976, for example, there were roughly 30,000 qualified applicants for admission to medical school, a much greater number of actual applicants and there were only about 14,000 places.

At Davis, there were 25 applicants have received in 1973.

In 1974, the ratio was risen to 37 to 1.

So the problem is one of selection among qualified applicants, not of ability to gain from a professional education.

The second fact which is no need for me to elaborate but it is a fact for generation’s racial discrimination in the United States, much of it stimulated by unconstitutional state action.

Isolated certain minorities condemn them to unfairer education and shut them out of the most important and satisfying aspects of American life including higher education and the profession.

And the greatest problem is the Carnegie on Higher Education noted more than 10 years ago.

The greatest problem in achieving racial justice was to draw those minorities into the professions that place on important part in our national life.

And then there’s one third factor.

There is no racially blind method of selection which will enroll today more than a trickle of minority students in the nation’s colleges and professions.

These are the realities which the University of California, Davis Medical School faced in 1968.

In which I say I think the Court must face when it comes to its decision.

Until 1969, the applicants of Davis as it most of the medical schools were chosen on the basis of scores on the medical aptitude test, their college grades, and other personal experiences and qualifications as revealed in the application.

The process excluded virtually almost all members of minority groups.

Even when they were fully qualified for places because there scores by enlarge were lower on the cognitive test and in college grade point averages.

Alright, there were no black students and no Chicanos in the class entering Davis in 1968.

If one puts to one side the predominately black medical schools, Howard and Meharry lasted off 1%, eight-tenths of 1% of all medical students in the United States were black in the year 1968, 1969.

In 1969, the faculty at Davis concluded the drawing in the medical college, qualified members of minorities, minorities long victimized by racial discrimination would yield important educational professional and social benefits.

It then chose one variant of the only possible method of increasing number.

It established what came to be known as the Task Force Program following the name of then program established by the Association of American Medical Colleges, which would select there were only 50 in the entering class at that time, which would select eight educationally but fully qualified — select eight educationally or economically disadvantaged but fully qualified minority students for inclusion among the 52 in the entering class.”


Then in opposition, representing Bakke, attorney Wade H. McCree claims, “The interest of the United States of America is amicus curiae stands from the fact that the Congress and the executive branch have adopted many minority sensitive programs.

They take race or minority status into account in order to achieve the goal of equal opportunity.

The United States is also concluded that voluntary programs to increase the participation of minorities in activities throughout our society.

Activities previously close to them should be encouraged and supported.

Accordingly, it asks this Court to reject the holding of the Supreme Court of California if race or other minority status may not constitutionally be employed in affirmative action and special admissions programs properly designed and tailored to eliminate discrimination against racial and ethnic minorities as such discrimination exist today or to help overcome the effects of past years of discriminations.

This Court does not require a recital of the extent in duration of racial discrimination in America from the time it was enshrined in our very Constitution in the three-fifths comprise, in the fugitive slave provision and in the provision preventing the importation of such persons prior to1808.

And it continues until the present day as the over burden dockets of the lower federal courts and indeed of this Court will indicate where there’s been non-compliance with the decisions of this Court that it rediscovered and are still rediscovering the true genius of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Indeed, many children born in 1954, when Brown was decided are today 23 years later the very persons knocking on the doors of professional schools seeking admission about the country that they are persons who in many instances have been denied the fulfillment of the promise of that decision because of resistance to this Court’s decision that was such a landmark when it was handed down.

And this discrimination has not been limited just to persons of African ancestry.

We all know too well the Asian Exclusion Acts that have discriminated against Asian-American citizens.

The sad history of our native American-Indian population and the treatment of our Hispanic population sometimes called Chicano.

This is what prompts the interest of the United States in seeing that this Court shall overturn the ruling of the California Supreme Court, the race or minority status may not be taken into consideration in formulating remedial programs.

A Professor Zimmer at the University of Illinois has written, if the ultimate social reality is the irrelevancy of race, the present reality is that race is very relevant.

Accordingly, it would be appear that to be blind to race today is to be blind to reality.

Now as we’ve argued in our brief, a school district may take race into account in formulating voluntary plans of integration.

We’ve argued and this Court has held that it need not to await litigation and it may take into account not only its own discrimination but also the consequences of discrimination elsewhere in our society because the impact of discrimination is not limited by source or locality.”


The plurality opinion slip was written by Justice Lewis Powell, for each justice has different thoughts on the case. He wrote, “In summary, it is evident that the Davis special admissions program involves the use of an explicit racial classification never before countenanced by this Court. It tells applicants who are not Negro, Asian, or Chicano that they are totally excluded from a specific percentage of the seats in an entering class. No matter how strong their qualifications, quantitative and extracurricular, including their own potential for contribution to educational diversity, they are never afforded the chance to compete with applicants from the preferred groups for the special admissions seats. At the same time, the preferred applicants have the opportunity to compete for every seat in the class.

The fatal flaw in petitioner’s preferential program is its disregard of individual rights as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 U.S. at 22. Such rights are not absolute. But when a State’s distribution of benefits or imposition of burdens hinges on ancestry or the color of a person’s skin, that individual is entitled to a demonstration that the challenged classification is necessary to promote a substantial state interest. Petitioner has failed to carry this burden. For this reason, that portion of the California court’s judgment holding petitioner’s special admissions program invalid under the Fourteenth Amendment must be affirmed.”

In a separate opinion, Justice William Brennan wrote, “Finally, Davis’ special admissions program cannot be said to violate the Constitution simply because it has set aside a predetermined number of places for qualified minority applicants, rather than using minority status as a positive factor to be considered in evaluating the applications of disadvantaged minority applicants. For purposes of constitutional adjudication, there is no difference between the two approaches. In any admissions program which accords special consideration to disadvantaged racial minorities, a determination of the degree of preference to be given is unavoidable, and any given preference that results in the exclusion of a white candidate is no more or less constitutionally acceptable than a program such as that at Davis. Furthermore, the extent of the preference inevitably depends on how many minority applicants the particular school is seeking to admit in any particular year, so long as the number of qualified minority applicants exceeds that number. There is no sensible, and certainly no constitutional, distinction between, for example, adding a set number of points to the admissions rating of disadvantaged minority applicants as an expression of the preference with the expectation that this will result in the admission of an approximately determined number of qualified minority applicants and setting a fixed number of places for such applicants, as was done here.

The ‘Harvard’ program, as those employing it readily concede, openly and successfully employs a racial criterion for the purpose of ensuring that some of the scarce places in institutions of higher education are allocated to disadvantaged minority students. That the Harvard approach does not also make public the extent of the preference and the precise workings of the system, while the Davis program employs a specific, openly stated number, does not condemn the latter plan for purposes of Fourteenth Amendment adjudication. It may be that the Harvard plan is more acceptable to the public than is the Davis ‘quota.’ If it is, any State, including California, is free to adopt it in preference to a less acceptable alternative, just as it is generally free, as far as the Constitution is concerned, to abjure granting any racial preferences in its admissions program. But there is no basis for preferring a particular preference program simply because, in achieving the same goals that the Davis Medical School is pursuing, it proceeds in a manner that is not immediately apparent to the public.

Accordingly, we would reverse the judgment of the Supreme Court of California holding the Medical School’s special admissions program unconstitutional and directing respondent’s admission, as well as that portion of the judgment enjoining the Medical School from according any consideration to race in the admissions process.”

Finally Justice John Paul Stevens also wrote his own separate opinion. (Will be added in later when found. N/A at the moment.)

My Opinion:

In this case, I partially agree with the plurality opinion. Not only is it completely unfair, it is unconstitutional for one to base college admissions solely off of race, or even consider race as a factor in their decision at all. The Fourteenth Amendment clearly states “equal protection under the law.” Using race as a factor completely violates a person’s Fourteenth Amendment right, let alone basing college admissions solely off race.

For example, if a Caucasian were to work all day and night on their academics and received straight As in order to get into their dream college and then another person who’s a minority, were to merely receive straight Cs without trying very hard, the minority will get chosen for diversity reasons. Now I ask you, what is so beneficial about diveristy? In what way will it benefit the students’ education and how they learn? In no way. The Caucasion clearly deserved that spot and their constitutional rights were infringed upon. I believe that every college should be colorblind and admit students based on their substance and not the color of their skin.

It is absolutely absurd that any college would decide admissions only based on race. A person has to meet the race requirements or else they have no chances of being admitted. In no way is that constitutional. Anyone who deserves the spot at that college should get it, no exceptions. The color of their skin should not even cross the admitter’s mind.

*Justice Leaning L=Left, LC=Left of Center, C=Center, RC=Right of Center, R=Right

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