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Regents of the University of California v. Bakke

Citation. 22 Ill.438 U.S. 912, 98 S. Ct. 3140, 57 L. Ed. 2d 1158 (1978)
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Brief Fact Summary.

A white student was denied admission into medical school despite having scores higher than minority student admitted into the school under a special quota system.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Race-based classifications, for purposes of school admissions, are constitutional. The use of racial-quotas, however, is unconstitutional.


The Respondent, Alan Bakke (Respondent), a white male, applied to, and was rejected, by the Davis Medical School in 1973 and 1974. The school’s admission program allowed for sixteen out of 100 slots to be reserved for the admission of minority students. The Respondent argued that his grade point average and MCAT scores were higher than minorities who where granted admissions, within the sixteen slots, into the school. The California Supreme Court ruled in favor of his equal protection claim declaring that the admissions program was unlawful and enjoined the School from considering the race of an applicant. The judgment was affirmed in part and reversed in part.


The issues are as follows:
Whether Davis’ admissions policy that reserved sixteen slots for each entering class of 100 students to disadvantaged minority students deprived white students of their rights guaranteed under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution).
Whether Davis’ admissions policy violated Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.


The holdings of the Court are as follows:
Justice Lewis Powell (J. Powell). Yes and No. A school’s admissions policy should be permitted to take into account an applicant’s membership in a racial minority. However, the use of racial quotas to achieve a certain amount of minority students is unconstitutional. The strict scrutiny standard must be applied when any racial group is treated differently. Considering race in a school’s admission’s policy withstands strict scrutiny because the policy would create an institution that was more “ethnically-diverse.” However, it is not necessary to use quotas to achieve the goal of ethnic diversity. Instead of using quotas, the school should consider a student’s minority status as a “plus” among the overall credentials of the applicant. The judgment is affirmed in part and reversed in part.
Justice Lewis Powell (J. Powell). No. Because Davis’ admission’s policy does not violate the Constitution on the basis that it considers race, Title VI is not violated. Title VI is only violated if the Constitutional is also violated.


The dissenting opinions are as follows:
Justice John Paul Stevens (J. Stevens). “Race cannot be the basis of excluding anyone from participation in a federally funded program. . . . ”
Justices William Brennan, Justice Byron White, Justice Thurgood Marshall and Justice Harry Blackmun (J. Brennan, J. White, J. Marshall, and J. Blackmun). The use of racial quotas for purposes of school admissions is not unconstitutional. The intermediate level of scrutiny should have been applied to this case rather than the strict scrutiny standard.
Concurrence. The concurring opinions are as follows:
Justices William Brennan, Justice Byron White, Justice Thurgood Marshall and Justice Harry Blackmun (J. Brennan, J. White, J. Marshall, and J. Blackmun). The Medical School’s admission policy, which reserves slots for disadvantaged minorities, is constitutional.
Justice Thurgood Marshall (J. Marshall). “I agree with the judgment of the Court only insofar as it permits a university to consider the race of an applicant in making admissions decisions. I do not agree that the [school’s] admission program violates the Constitution.”
Justice Harry Blackmun (J. Blackmun). In order to resolve racial problems, “we must first take account of race.” “[I]n order to treat some persons equally, we must treat them differently.”


In order to mend the harmful effects of race discrimination, racial minorities who have been historically discriminated against need to be treated differently in order to be treated equally under the requirements of the Constitution.

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