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Regents of University of California vs. Bakke

Should your race help determine your college admission?

Bob, a white man, has higher test scores and statistics than Jimmy, a man from a minority group. Are they to be treated equally? What possible complaints could Bob have, and what possible defenses could Jimmy have?


Docket No. 76-811

Date Argued: October 12, 1977

Date Decided: June 26, 1978

In the 1970s, Allan Bakke, a white man from California had been rejected twice from the medical school at the University of California, Davis. This school reserved 16% of the spots in the freshman class for qualified minority groups like black people, American Indians, and Chicanos. He claimed that because his GPA and test scores were significantly higher than those of the admitted minorities, that he had been a victim of discrimination. Bakke asserted that the affirmative action program violated the equal protections clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. He also claimed that their program violated Title IV of Civil Rights Acts of 1954, which prohibits the exclusion of a person based on race or color from any program receiving Federal funds . The trial court said the University of California’s program violated Title IV and that the university could not use a racial quota in admissions. The case was argued at the Supreme Court three years later.


Should race be a factor in admissions?

Does affirmative action violate the constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment?

Was Allan Bakke discriminated against based on his race?


Side 1- Bakke (petitioner)

  • A white man from California named Allan Bakke who had been rejected twice from the University of California, Davis’ medical school, but had higher test scores and grades than some of those admitted to the school through it’s affirmative action program

  • Argument - The university violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment

  • Argument - The university violated Title VI of the Civils Rights Act of 1964

Side 2- University of California (respondent)

  • The University of California is a public research university system

  • Argument - The university’s affirmative action program was created in order to remedy past discrimination and did not violate any part of the Constitution

OUTCOME: 5-4 decision for Bakke

Plurality Opinion by Lewis F. Powell Jr.

The justices put up six different opinions in the court and none of them received a majority vote in the court. Thus, a plurality opinion was instituted. In a plurality opinion, an opinion without enough votes can be cited as the main “opinion”, but cannot be used as precedence, Justice Powell put in the deciding vote which permitted Bakke to be admitted into the medical school at the University of California, Davis school . The court put this case under strict scrutiny since it concerns discrimination on the basis of race and found that the university’s race-based program that reserved 16% of seats for minorities was a strict racial quota that was discriminatory against white applicants, Justice Powell claimed that this violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment which holds that no person should be denied equal protection of the laws . He also joined the opinion that race could be used as a factor in admissions in higher education and that this did not violate the constitution, but affirmative action could only be justified with diversity as a goal and not to remedy discrimination in the past against these minorities.

Dissenting in part by Stevens, Burger, Stewart, and Rehnquist

Justice Stevens, Justice Burger, Justice Stewart, and Justice Rehnquist filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part. They said it was inappropriate to say whether racial preference is allowed under the constitution,

Concurring in part by Stevens, Burger, Stewart, and Rehnquist

They agreed that the admission of Bakke was right. They held that the court’s judgement in this case should not extend to anything else.


This case upheld affirmative action and expanded it while also minimizing the negative effects it may have on white students. Although it got rid of racial quotas, it specified what the goals of affirmative programs should be and allowed for race to be used in a part of admissions. It also opened up the court to new cases like Grutter v. Bollinger and Fisher v. University of Texas in which the court also upheld affirmative action and made it clear that race could be used as a factor. However, systems could not create a policy that would result in an automatic race based preference, as this would violate the constitution. This decision has permitted the continuation of affirmative action policies and has provided more opportunities to minorities for higher education.


#courtcase #constitution #fourteenthamendment #affirmativeaction


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