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Bakke v. Regents of the University of California


BAKKE V. REGENTS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, 438 U.S. 265 (1978), a case in which the Supreme Court overturned a quota policy for admissions at the University of California at Davis, while generally approving affirmative action programs. Allan Bakke, a white male, was denied admittance to the medical school at Davis in 1973 and 1974. In both years the school admitted only one hundred students, reserving sixteen seats for minorities. Bakke sued, claiming "reverse discrimination" because some of the minorities admitted had lower grade point averages and lower scores on the Medical College Admission Test than his. Four justices wanted to end the program for violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 without addressing the constitutionality of the medical school's affirmative action program. Four others wanted the Court to rule that the program was constitutional and that the medical school rightfully denied Bakke admittance. Justice Lewis Powell Jr. essentially split the difference, arguing that fixed racial quota programs such as the medical school's violated the Civil Rights Act, but also that a public school's admission policy "may" consider race as long as it was not the determining factor. This was constitutionally permissible under the First Amendment, he argued, because it allowed educational institutions to promote cultural diversity. The Court's decision, which affected only affirmative action programs at schools receiving federal funds, did not settle the question of reverse discrimination, because it was decided on narrow statutory grounds.

As backlash mounted against affirmative action programs in the 1990s, the decision became a lightning rod for controversy. In July 1995, for example, the University of California's Board of Regents rejected the Bakke standard, which allowed "race as one of many factors" in admissions decisions, voting to prohibit schools in the UC system from using "race, religion, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin" in admissions decisions. In March 1996 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in Hop-wood v. State of Texas, decided in favor of four white students who had been denied admission to the University of Texas Law School. The court ruled that the students had suffered reverse discrimination and declared unconstitutional the use of race as one of several factors in admissions decisions. The Supreme Court declined to re-view the case, allowing it to stand as law in Texas, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

In March 2001 Judge Bernard Friedman's district court ruling on Grutter v. Bollinger ordered the University of Michigan Law School to cease considering race as a factor in admissions, although the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay of this order in April. In May 2002 the Supreme Court reversed the district court's ruling and upheld the use of race in admissions to the school.


Carter, Stephen L. Reflections of an Affirmative Action Baby. New York: Basic Books, 1991.

O'Brien, David M. Storm Center: The Supreme Court in American Politics. New York: Norton, 1986.

Thomas G.Gress/a. r.; c. w.;

See alsoAffirmative Action ; California Higher Educational System ; Discrimination: Race .

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