Regents of University of California v. Bakke Summary  |
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Regents of University of California v. Bakke Summary |

– [Narrator] Allan Bakke
never wanted to be famous, he just wanted to be a doctor. Little did he know that his two failed
attempts to gain admission to medical school would
lead to a landmark decision by the United States Supreme Court. By the time it was over, his case would forever cement his story into the national dialog
about affirmative action. At the time of Bakke’s application the University of California,
Davis Medical School had two separate admissions programs, a general program that handled most applicants and a special program for minority and economically
disadvantaged students. White students could theoretically
request consideration under the special program if they were economically disadvantaged but no white student
had ever been admitted through the special program. In each year’s incoming
class of 100 students, 84 seats were open for applicants in the general admissions pool while the remaining 16 were
reserved for minority students through the special admissions program. Although Bakke’s
qualifications were impressive his scores fell shy of securing one of the 84 seats available through the general admissions process and as a white male of
average economic means Bakke wasn’t eligible for the
special admissions program. He was denied admission
two years in a row. In both years candidates were accepted through the special admissions program with test scores substantially
lower than Bakke’s. Bakke filed suit in California trial court arguing the special admissions process violated the Equal Protection
Clause of the 14th Amendment. Bakke also cited Title VI
of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits
racial discrimination by recipients of federal funding. The trial court agreed with Bakke and the Supreme Court
of California affirmed. The United States Supreme
Court granted cert to determine whether public institutions of higher education may use race in making admission decisions consistent with the
Equal Protection Clause. The court held that although universities can use race to evaluate candidates under some circumstances, they can’t establish
a racial quota system, just as Powell announced the judgment of a deeply fractured court. There was no majority opinion but four justices agreed with Powell that the university’s
special admissions program had discriminated against Bakke. Powell explained that
racial classifications are inherently suspect and require application
of strict scrutiny. To survive strict scrutiny, the racial classification must further a compelling state interest and its use must be the least
restrictive means available to achieve that interest. The university contended that
its special admissions program served compelling interests in
remedying past discrimination facilitating health services
and underserved areas and increasing academic diversity. First, Powell determined that
remedying past discrimination by society at large wasn’t
a compelling interest because the university
itself hadn’t engaged in any discrimination. Next, Powell acknowledged that promoting health services in underprivileged areas might be a compelling interest but the university failed to establish that the special admissions program was actually geared towards
accomplishing that purpose. Finally, Powell agreed that
increasing academic diversity presented a compelling interest, however, he determined that
the special admissions program wasn’t the least restrictive means to further that interest. Powell reasoned that
there’s more to diversity than skin color and rejected
the university’s use of a racial quota system as quote discrimination for its own sake unquote. The court thus held the
university’s admissions program to be unconstitutional and affirmed the California
Supreme Court’s judgment. Justice Brennan concurring in part and dissenting in part would have upheld the
upheld admissions program. In his view, programs that
use racial classifications to remedy past discrimination serve a compelling state interest and are thus constitutional. Justice Marshal also wrote separately to emphasize his view that the Equal Protection
Clause permits the use of racial classifications to
remedy past discrimination. Justice Blackman’s opinion
expressed his belief that the judiciary was ill-equipped to judge the wisdom of
admissions programs. He also noted that race
must be taken into account in order to combat racism. Finally, Justice Stevens concurred in part and dissented in part. He wrote that the special
admissions program violated the plain language of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by excluding Bakke from an institution that received federal funds. Because this statutory violation was sufficient to affirm
the judgment below, Stevens wouldn’t have reached
the constitutional question. Bakke was a monumental
case on affirmative action that invalidated the use
of racial quota systems. Due to the fractured nature
of the court’s ruling many relevant questions
remained unsettled for decades until they were answered in
another landmark decision nearly a quarter century later in Grutter versus Bollinger.


  • Matthew Sivieri

    You’ve failed to mention the fact that the University had a quota in place, that 16 out of every 100 students had to be minorities, and the Supreme Court shot that down and any use of quotas. Was leaving this out intentional or accidental?

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