Regents of the University of California v. Bakke

PETITIONER: Regents of the University of California
LOCATION: University of California Medical School at Davis

DOCKET NO.: 76-811
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: Supreme Court of California

CITATION: 438 US 265 (1978)
ARGUED: Oct 12, 1977
DECIDED: Jun 26, 1978

Archibald Cox - Argued the cause for the petitioner
Reynold H. Colvin - Argued the cause for the respondent

Facts of the case

Allan Bakke, a thirty-five-year-old white man, had twice applied for admission to the University of California Medical School at Davis. He was rejected both times. The school reserved sixteen places in each entering class of one hundred for "qualified" minorities, as part of the university's affirmative action program, in an effort to redress longstanding, unfair minority exclusions from the medical profession. Bakke's qualifications (college GPA and test scores) exceeded those of any of the minority students admitted in the two years Bakke's applications were rejected. Bakke contended, first in the California courts, then in the Supreme Court, that he was excluded from admission solely on the basis of race.


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?

Media for Regents of the University of California v. Bakke

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 12, 1977 in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 26, 1978 in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion of the Court in 76-811, Regents of the University of California against Bakke, will be disposed of in this way.

Mr. Justice Powell will announce the judgment of the Court.

There is no opinion of the Court supported by a majority and accordingly other justices will state their dissenting and concurring opinions in due course, following that.

Lewis F. Powell, Jr.:

As the Chief Justice has stated, I am authorized to announce only the Judgment of the Court.

The facts in this case are too well known to be re-stated this morning.

Perhaps no case in modern memory has received as much media coverage and scholarly commentary.

More than 60 briefs were filed with the Court.

We also have received the advice through the media and the commentaries of countless extra judicial advocates.

The case was argued some eight months ago and as we speak today with a notable lack of unanimity, it maybe fair to say that we needed all of this advice.

In any event, it will be evident from the several opinions that the case intrinsically difficult, has received our most thoughtful attention over many months.

So much for the introduction; as there are six separate opinions, I will state first the Court's judgment.

Insofar, as the California Supreme Court held at Bakke must be admitted to the Davis Medical School, we affirm.

Insofar, as the California court prohibited Davis from considering race as a factor in admissions, we reverse.

I will now try to explain how we divided on these issues.

This may not be self evident from a hard examination of our various opinions.

The decision of the California Court presented us with two central questions; the first and the one widely perceived as the only ultimate question is whether the special admissions program discriminated unlawfully against Bakke either under the Constitution or under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

I will refer to this as Bakke admissions question.

The second and broader question is whether it is ever permissible to consider race as a factor relevant to the admission of applicants to a State University.

I will refer to this question generally as whether race maybe considered.

As will be perceived at this point, if the answer to the second question were negative, that is that race may never validly considered, this answer disposes of both issues.

Bakke would be admitted and the University could not in the future, give any consideration to race in its admissions program.

If however, the second question were answered affirmatively, that is that race maybe considered, then it becomes necessarily to address the first question separately that is whether the “special admissions program” at Davis is compatible with Title VI and with the Constitution.

I have mentioned both Title VI, often referred to as a statutory issue and the Constitution under which is presented the Equal Protection issue arising under the Fourteenth Amendment.

The case is further complicated because if it were disposed of under Title VI, there would be no occasions to reach the constitutional issues.

I will now state more specifically how the questions are decided.

The Chief Justice and justices Stewart, Rehnquist and Stevens in an opinion authorized by Mr. Justice Stevens have concluded that the only question before us is whether Bakke was unlawfully excluded from the Medical School because of his race.

In their view, Congress has answered that question in Title VI.

They would affirm the judgment of the California Court without addressing the question whether race maybe ever be considered as a factor in an admissions program.

Justices Brennan, White, Marshall, Blackmun and I have a different view as to Title VI.

We believe despite smaller and detailed provisions that it goes no further in prohibiting the use of race than the Equal Protection Clause.