Regents of the University of California v. Bakke

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Regents of the University of California v. Bakke

A 1978 decision by the Supreme Court, Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265, 98 S. Ct. 2733, 57 L. Ed. 2d 750, commonly referred to as Bakke, held that. although the university unlawfully discriminated against a white applicant by denying him admission to its medical school solely on the basis of his race, the university may consider the race of an applicant in its admission procedure in order to attain ethnic diversity in its student body.

In 1972, Allan Bakke, a 33-year-old white male engineer, applied for admission to the medical school of the University of California at Davis and was not accepted. Bakke was one of 2,664 applicants that year for 100 places. He applied again the next year and was again rejected. This second year, minority applicants with grade point averages, Medical College Admission Test scores, and other qualifications that were lower than Bakke's were accepted under a special minority admission program. This program set aside 16 of the 100 places in the entering class for minority groups titled blacks, Chicanos, Asians, and American Indians.

Following his second rejection, in 1974, Bakke instituted a lawsuit in the Superior Court of California against the university on the grounds that his rights had been violated under the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution; the California Constitution; and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C.A. § 2000d et seq.), which proscribed the exclusion of any person from a federally funded program on the basis of race.

The California lower court ruled that the school's admission program was in violation of the state and federal constitutions and Title VI, but it would not order the university to admit Bakke to the medical school because Bakke had not shown that he would have won admission had there been no special minority program. Bakke then appealed to the California Supreme Court, which ruled that it was incumbent upon the university, not Bakke, to prove that he would not have been admitted if the special program had not been in effect. The school acknowledged that it could not satisfy the requirement, and the court ordered the university to admit Bakke. The university appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which granted certiorari (agreed to review the case), and the court order requiring Bakke's admission was suspended pending a decision by the High Court.

The Bakke case aroused intense controversy. Civil Rights supporters feared that the Court might hold that specific policies could not be employed to remedy past discrimination. On the other side of the issue stood Bakke and his supporters, charging that Bakke's civil rights were being violated simply because of his race, which happened to be white. A great deal of weight hung over the Bakke case as it moved through the courts, and, with enormous publicity surrounding their decision, the Supreme Court justices were keenly aware of the case's importance.

On June 27, 1978, the Court divided sharply in its decision, presenting six separate opinions. Four justices chose to address only the statutory issue of Title VI and found for Bakke, including his admission to the medical school, because the quota in the university's admission plan had clearly excluded Bakke on the basis of his race. Four justices addressed the larger constitutional issue of the Equal Protection Clause and found for the medical school because its intent was not to exclude Bakke but only to include individuals of other races for compelling government reasons. The deciding swing vote was cast by Justice lewis f. powell jr., who found for both. Powell's contention was that the Title VI plurality was correct in that the university had violated the "plain meaning" of the civil rights act, which proscribed discrimination based on race, and ordered Bakke be admitted to the medical school. But Powell also found that the university could use "race-conscious" factors in selecting its applicants in order to achieve the benefits of a "diverse student body."

This divided decision settled the Bakke case, but it left the legal issue muddled: what actions, if any, could the state take to protect minorities in the marketplace? Subsequent court decisions struggled repeatedly over this primary civil rights question.

In 2003, the Affirmative Action issue returned to the Supreme Court. A group of unsuccessful white applicants to the University of Michigan's undergraduate program and law school filed a lawsuit challenging the university's admission policies. The school uses a point scale to rate applicants, with grades and academics counting for more than two-thirds of the points. However, members of "underrepresented" racial and ethnic groups receive extra points, as do children of alumni and people from underrepresented geographic areas. The applicants and the Bush administration argued that giving points for race amounted to a quota, while the university contended that race was just one factor in promoting a diverse student body. The Supreme Court, in Gratz v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. ___, 123 S.Ct. 2411, 156 L.Ed. 2d 257 (2003), reaffirmed Bakke. The Court held that higher education institutions may use race as one factor in evaluating applicants but, as in Bakke, warned against the use of racial quotas or policies that give race too prominent a role in the selection process.

Further readings

Ball, Howard. 2000. The Bakke Case: Race, Education, and Affirmative Action. Lawrence: Univ. Press of Kansas.

Daniel, T.K. Philip. 2003. "Diversity in University Admissions Decisions: The Continued Support of Bakke." Journal of Law and Education 32 (January).

Kirkelie, Stephen M. 2002. "Higher Education Admissions and Diversity: The Continuing Vitality of Bakke v. Regents of the University of California and an Attempt to Reconcile Powell's and Brennan's Opinions." Willamette Law Review 38 (fall).

Schwartz, Bernard. 1988. Behind Bakke: Affirmative Action and the Supreme Court. New York: New York Univ. Press.

Cross-references

Affirmative Action; Colleges and Universities; Equal Protection; Strict Scrutiny; United Steelworkers v. Weber.

References in periodicals archive ?
In 1978, the Supreme Court ordered the University of California-Davis Medical School to admit Allan Bakke, a white man who argued he'd been a victim of reverse racial discrimination.
In 1978, Californian Allan Bakke found himself denied entrance to the University of California Medical School, while 16 less-qualified applicants won admission courtesy of an affirmative action program.