University of California Regents v. Bakke
Decided June 26, 1978, 438 U.S. 265

Admissions to schools based on racial quotas violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, however race may be considered in admission decisions to achieve the compelling state interest of integrating the student body.



A. Issues Discussed: Affirmative action

B. Legal Question Presented:

Did the University of California violate the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection clause, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, by practicing an affirmative action policy that resulted in the repeated rejection of Bakke's application for admission to its medical school?

A. Background:

"The Medical School of the University of California at Davis (hereinafter Davis) 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...

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, Chicanos, Asians, American Indians). If an applicant of a minority group was found to be "disadvantaged," he 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...

Respondent, 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 since 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 respondent's.

After his second rejection, respondent filed this 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, inter alia, that no person shall on the ground of race or color be excluded from participating in any program receiving federal financial assistance.

Petitioner cross-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 petitioner could not take race into account in making admissions decisions, the program was held to violate the Federal and State Constitutions and Title VI. Respondent's admission was not ordered, however, for lack of proof that he would have been admitted but for the special program.

The California Supreme Court, 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 profession 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 petitioner's special admissions program violated the Equal Protection Clause. Since petitioner could not satisfy its burden of demonstrating that respondent, absent the special program, would not have been admitted, the court ordered his admission to Davis."

On certiorari, the US Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the Supreme Court of California.

B. Counsel of Record:
Opposing Side
Unavailable Unavailable
C. The Arguments:
Opposing Side
"The admissions program at the University of California serves a vital educational and societal purpose of promoting equality and it is constitutional. The central purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment was to protect discreet and insular minorities, and it would be cruel of the Court to turn this Amendment into a weapon against state government efforts to redress cumulative racial injustices. The purpose of University of California's admission system is to promote racial diversity in a school marked by white dominance in both the faculty and the administration. The racial composition of the student body is 84% white, as compared to only 75% white in the state, and therefore, whites still have a disproportionately large representation in the medical school. The special admission program is designed to insure that traditionally disadvantaged minorities count equally and this promotion of individual liberty is essential to our democratic society. The program attempts to ameliorate the status of traditionally disadvantaged minorities without placing any stigma on those ineligible for the program, and is therefore not in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment." Unavailable


Opposing Side
Archibald Cox argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs were Paul J. Mishkin, Jack B. Owens, and Donald L. Reidhaar.

Solicitor General McCree argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae. With him on the briefs were Attorney General Bell, Assistant Attorney General Days, Deputy Solicitor General Wallace, Brian K. Landsberg, Jessica Dunsay Silver, Miriam R. Eisenstein, and Vincent F. O'Rourke.

Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed by Slade Gorton, Attorney General, and James B. Wilson, Senior Assistant Attorney General, for the State of Washington et al.; by E. Richard Larson, Joel M. Gora, Charles C. Marson, Sanford Jay Rosen, Fred Okrand, Norman Dorsen, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Frank Askin for the American Civil Liberties Union et al.; by Edgar S. Cahn, Jean Camper Cahn, and Robert S. Catz for the Antioch School of Law; by William Jack Chow for the Asian American Bar Assn. of the Greater Bay Area; by A. Kenneth Pye, Robert B. McKay, David E. Feller, and Ernest Gellhorn for the Association of American Law Schools; by John Holt Myers for the Association of American Medical Colleges; by Jerome B. Falk and Peter Roos for the Bar Assn. of San Francisco et al.; by Ephraim Margolin for the Black Law Students Assn. at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law; by John T. Baker for the Black Law Students Union of Yale University Law School; by Annamay T. Sheppard and Jonathan M. Hyman for the Board of Governors of Rutgers, State University of New Jersey, et al.; by Robert J. Willey for the Cleveland State University Chapter of the Black American Law Students Assn.; by John Mason Harding, Albert J. Rosenthal, Daniel Steiner, Iris Brest, James V. Siena, Louis H. Pollak, and Michael I. Sovern for Columbia University et al.; by Herbert O. Reid for Howard University; by Harry B. Reese and L. Orin Slagle for the Law School Admission Council; by Albert E. Jenner, Jr., Stephen J. Pollak, Burke Marshall, [438 U.S. 265, 269] Norman Redlich, Robert A. Murphy, and William E. Caldwell for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; by Alice Daniel and James E. Coleman, Jr., for the Legal Services Corp.; by Nathaniel R. Jones, Nathaniel S. Colley, and Stanley Goodman for the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People; by Jack Greenberg, James M. Nabrit III, Charles S. Ralston, Eric Schnapper, and David E. Kendall for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.; by Stephen V. Bomse for the National Assn. of Minority Contractors et al.; by Richard B. Sobol, Marian Wright Edelman, Stephen P. Berzon, and Joseph L. Rauh, Jr., for the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States et al.; by Barbara A. Morris, Joan Bertin Lowy, and Diana H. Greene for the National Employment Law Project, Inc.; by Herbert O. Reid and J. Clay Smith, Jr., for the National Medical Assn., Inc., et al.; by Robert Hermann for the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund et al.; by Robert Allen Sedler, Howard Lesnick, and Arval A. Morris for the Society of American Law Teachers; for the American Medical Student Assn.; and for the Council on Legal Education Opportunity.

Reynold H. Colvin argued the cause and filed briefs for respondent.

Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed by Lawrence A. Poltrock and Wayne B. Giampietro for the American Federation of Teachers; by Abraham S. Goldstein, Nathan Z. Dershowitz, Arthur J. Gajarsa, Thaddeus L. Kowalski, Anthony J. Fornelli, Howard L. Greenberger, Samuel Rabinove, Themis N. Anastos, Julian E. Kulas, and Alan M. Dershowitz for the American Jewish Committee et al.; by McNeill Stokes and Ira J. Smotherman, Jr., for the American Subcontractors Assn.; by Philip B. Kurland, Daniel D. Polsby, Larry M. Lavinsky, Arnold Forster, Dennis Rapps, Anthony J. Fornelli, Leonard Greenwald, and David I. Ashe for the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith et al.; by Charles G. Bakaly and Lawrence B. Kraus for the Chamber of Commerce of the United States; by Roger A. Clark, Jerome K. Tankel, and Glen R. Murphy for the Fraternal Order of Police et al.; by Judith R. Cohn for the Order Sons of Italy in America; by Ronald A. Zumbrun, John H. Findley, and William F. Harvey for the Pacific Legal Foundation; by Benjamin Vinar and David I. Caplan for the Queens Jewish Community Council et al.; and by Jennings P. Felix for Young Americans for Freedom.


"The judgment below is affirmed insofar as it orders respondent's admission to Davis and invalidates petitioner's special admissions program, but is reversed insofar as it prohibits petitioner from taking race into account as a factor in its future admissions decisions...

Racial and ethnic classifications of any sort are inherently suspect and call for the most exacting judicial scrutiny. While the goal of achieving a diverse student body is sufficiently compelling to justify consideration of race in admissions decisions under some circumstances, petitioner's special admissions program, which forecloses consideration to persons like respondent, is unnecessary to the achievement of this compelling goal and therefore invalid under the Equal Protection Clause.

Since petitioner could not satisfy its burden of proving that respondent would not have been admitted even if there had been no special admissions program, he must be admitted.

Racial classifications call for strict judicial scrutiny. Nonetheless, the purpose of overcoming substantial, chronic minority underrepresentation in the medical profession is sufficiently important to justify petitioner's remedial use of race. Thus, the judgment below must be reversed in that it prohibits race from being used as a factor in university admissions."

The United States Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the Supreme Court of California judgment.

Justice Vote: 4 Pro vs. 5 Con 
  • Burger, W. Pro (Joined dissenting opinion)
  • Stewart, P. Pro (Joined dissenting opinion)
  • Rehnquist, W. Pro (Joined dissenting opinion)
  • Stevens, J. Pro (Wrote dissenting opinion in part)
  • Powell, L. Con (Wrote majority opinion)
  • White, B. Con (Wrote concurring opinion in part)
  • Brennan, W. Con (Wrote concurring opinion in part)
  • Marshall, T. Con (Wrote concurring opinion in part)
  • Blackmun, H. Con (Wrote concurring opinion in part)

The ACLU, as amicus curiae, urged reversal of the judgment of the Supreme Court of California; the Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part in a 4-5 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent loss.