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Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, was a landmark decision of the Supreme Court of the United Statesmarker on affirmative action. It bars quota systems in college admissions but affirms the constitutionality of affirmative action programs.


The Medical School of the University of California at Davismarker had two admissions programs for the entering class of 100 students - the regular admissions program and the special admissions program. Under the regular procedure, candidates whose overall under-graduate grade point averages fell below 2.5 on a scale of 4.0 were summarily rejected. About one out of six applicants was then given an interview, following which he or she was rated on a scale of 1 to 100 by each of the committee members (five in 1973 and six in 1974), the rating being based on the interviewers' summaries, overall grade point average, science courses grade point average, Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) scores, letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities, and other biographical data, all of which resulted in a total "benchmark score."

The full admissions committee then made offers of admission on the basis of their review of the applicants' files and their scores, considering and acting upon applications as they were received. The committee chairman was responsible for placing names on the waiting list and had discretion to include persons with "special skills." A separate committee, a majority of whom were members of minority groups, operated the special admissions program.

The 1973 and 1974 application forms, respectively, asked candidates whether they wished to be considered as "economically and/or educationally disadvantaged" applicants and members of a "minority group" (Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans). If an applicant of a minority group was found to be "disadvantaged," he or she would be rated in a manner similar to the one employed by the general admissions committee.

Special candidates, however, did not have to meet the 2.5 grade point cutoff and were not ranked against candidates in the general admissions process. About one-fifth of the special applicants were invited for interviews in 1973 and 1974, following which they were given benchmark scores, and the top choices were then given to the general admissions committee, which could reject special candidates for failure to meet course requirements or other specific deficiencies. The special committee continued to recommend candidates until 16 special admission selections had been made.

No disadvantaged Caucasians were admitted under the special program, though many applied. Allan Bakke, a white male, applied to Davis in 1973 and 1974, in both years being considered only under the general admissions program. Though he had a 468 out of 500 score in 1973, he was rejected because no general applicants with scores less than 470 were being accepted after respondent's application, which was filed late in the year, had been processed and completed. At that time four special admission slots were still unfilled. In 1974 respondent applied early, and though he had a total score of 549 out of 600, he was again rejected. In neither year was his name placed on the discretionary waiting list. In both years special applicants were admitted with significantly lower scores than Bakke's.

After his second rejection, Bakke filed an action in state court for mandatory, injunctive, and declaratory relief to compel his admission to Davis, alleging that the special admissions program operated to exclude him on the basis of his race in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, a provision of the California Constitution, and 601 of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which provides that no person shall on the ground of race or color be excluded from participating in any program receiving federal financial assistance). UC Davis Medical School counter-claimed for a declaration that its special admissions program was lawful.

The trial court found that the special program operated as a racial quota, because minority applicants in that program were rated only against one another, and 16 places in the class of 100 were reserved for them. Declaring that UC Davis Medical School could not take race into account in making admissions decisions, the court declared the program violated the Federal and State Constitutions and Title VI. The court did not order Bakke's admission, however, because there was no proof at trial that he would have been admitted but for the special program. The California Supreme Courtmarker, applying a strict-scrutiny standard, concluded that the special admissions program was not the least intrusive means of achieving the goals of the admittedly compelling state interests of integrating the medical facility, and increasing the number of doctors willing to serve minority patients. Without passing on the state constitutional or federal statutory grounds, the court held that UC Davis Medical School's special admissions program violated the Equal Protection Clause. Because the Medical School could not satisfy its burden of demonstrating that, absent the special program, Bakke would not have been admitted, the court ordered his admission to the Medical School.[25607] Bakke began his studies at the University of California Medical School at Davis in fall of 1978, graduated in 1982, and later served as a resident at the prestigious Mayo Clinicmarker in Rochester, Minnesotamarker.


The court ruled 5-4 in Bakke's favor on June 23, 1978. Justice Lewis Powell delivered the opinion of the court 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 Harvardmarker 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 racial discrimination in any institution that receives federal funding. Justices Burger, Stewart, Rehnquist, and Stevens supported a strict interpretation and, thus, ruled in favor of Bakke. Justices Brennan, Marshall, Blackmun, and White, however, disagreed with a rigid and literal interpretation of Title VI. 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.

See also


1978 Case

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