Regents of the University of California v. Bakke,  No. 76-811 Supreme Court of The United States 438 U.S. 265; 98 S. Ct. 2733; 1978 U.S. LEXIS 5; 57 L. Ed. 2d 750; 17 Fair Empl. Prac. Cas. (BNA) 1000; 17 Empl. Prac. Dec. (CCH) P8402

June 28, 1978, Decided

CORE TERMS: applicant, classification, negroes, ethnic, Fourteenth Amendment, disadvantaged, negro, color, race-conscious, remedial, educational, score, regulation, recipient, preferential, candidate, federally, diversity, segregation, discriminatory, societal, slavery, funded, quota, disadvantage, racially, segregated, funding, slave, faculty


A white male who had been denied admission to the medical school at the University of California at Davis for two consecutive years, sued for declaratory and injunctive relief against the Regents of the University. The plaintiff alleged the invalidity of the medical school's special admissions program which reserved a certain number of seats for disadvantaged members of certain minority races. According to the plaintiff this resulted in the school accepting students with substantially lower entrance examination scores had been admitted under the special admissions program.

The trial court held the a school could not not take race into account in making admissions decisions, that the challenged admissions program violated the federal and state constitutions and Title VI, but it refused to order the plaintiff's admission because he had failed to prove that he would have been admitted but for the existence of the special program. The Supreme Court of California affirmed the trial court's judgment insofar as it determined that the special admissions program was invalid under the equal protection clause, but

HELD: 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.


Powell, J., announced the judgment of the court and delivered an opinion (joined in minor part--as to holdings that the suit was not collusive and the plaintiff had standing to sue, and as to the conclusion that the California Supreme Court's judgment must be reversed insofar as it enjoined the defendant from ever giving any consideration to the race of any applicant--by Brennan, White, Marshall, and Blackmun, JJ.):

  1. Title VI proscribed only those racial classifications that violate the equal protection clause or the Fifth Amendment;

  2. for purposes of the equal protection clause, racial and ethnic distinctions of any sort were inherently suspect and thus called for the most exacting judicial examination without regard to whether the group discriminated against was a discrete and insular minority (White, J., joined the opinion on this point also);

  3. the burden a plaintiff was required to bear must be tailored to serve a compelling governmental interest;

  4. since in the case at bar there was no determination by the legislature or a responsible administrative agency that the University had engaged in a discriminatory practice requiring remedial efforts, and since the special admissions program totally foreclosed some individuals from enjoying the state-provided benefit of admission to the medical school solely because of their race, the classification must be regarded as suspect, and thus was permissible only if supported by a substantial state purpose or interest, and only if the classification was necessary to the accomplishment of such purpose or the safeguarding of such interest;

  5. the special admissions program could not be justified as serving the purposes of (a) assuring within the student body a specified percentage of a particular racial group, since such racial preference was facially invalid as discrimination for its own sake, (b) countering the effects of "societal discrimination," since the government has a substantial interest in correcting the effects of specific, identified discrimination only, (c) increasing the number of physicians who would practice in communities currently underserved, there being virtually no evidence that the special admissions program was either needed or geared to promote such goal, or (d) obtaining the educational benefits that flowed from an ethnically diverse student body, since even though such diversity was a constitutionally permissible goal in view of the First Amendment's special concern for academic freedom, nevertheless the defendant's program--reserving a fixed number of seats in each class solely on the basis of race, whereas the admissions programs of other universities properly took race into account as only one of the factors for consideration in achieving educational diversity through programs involving individual, competitive comparison of all applicants--was not necessary to promote the interest of diversity; and

  6. the defendant's special admissions program violated the Fourteenth Amendment.

In a joint opinion, Brennan, White, Marshall, and Blackmun, JJ., concurred in the judgment in part (as to the reversal of the judgment below insofar as it prohibited the University from establishing race-conscious programs in the future) and dissented in part (as to the affirmance of the judgment below insofar as it held that the special admissions program was unlawful):

  1. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act did not bar the voluntary preferential treatment of racial minorities as a means of remedying past societal discrimination;

  2. nevertheless racial classifications designed to further remedial purposes must serve important governmental objectives and must be substantially related to the achievement of those objectives;

  3. the University's purpose of remedying the effects of past societal discrimination was sufficiently important to justify the use of the voluntary, race-conscious admissions programs; and

  4. the University's program was valid and could not be said to violate the Constitution simply because it set aside a predetermined number of places for qualified minority applicants rather than using minority status as a positive factor to be considered in evaluating the applications of disadvantaged minority applicants--there being no difference between the two approaches for purposes of constitutional adjudication.


White, J., in a separate opinion:
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was not enforceable by a private action.

Marshall, J., in a separate opinion:
Bringing blacks into the mainstream of American life should be a state interest of the highest order because of the past discrimination that blacks have suffered. The history of the Fourteenth Amendment as well as past Supreme Court decisions do not preclude a University form remedying the cumulative effects of society's discrimination by attempting to increase the number of minority students.

Blackmun, J., in a separate opinion,
(1) admissions programs for institutions of higher learning were basically a responsibility for academicians and for administrators and the specialists they employ, and (2) it would be impossible to arrange an affirmative action program in a racially neutral way and have it successful.

Stevens, J., joined by Burger, Ch. J., Stewart, J., and Rehnquist, J., concurring in the judgment in part (insofar as it affirmed the judgment below) and dissenting in part (insofar as the court purported to do anything other than affirm the judgment below),

  1. the only issue before the court was the validity of the defendant's admissions program as applied to deny admission to the plaintiff, it not being appropriate to consider whether race could ever be used as a factor in an admissions program,

  2. it was not necessary to consider whether the defendant's admissions program violated equal protection principles, since 601 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 USCS 2000d) clearly prohibited the exclusion, on the basis of race, of "any" individual from a federally funded program, regardless of whether or not the exclusion carried with it a racial stigma or resulted from an "affirmative action" program, and since the defendant's special admissions program clearly violated Title VI of the Act by excluding the plaintiff from the medical school because of his race, and

  3. the defendant's contention that Title VI could not be enforced by a private litigant was unpersuasive in the context of the case, since the question had not been raised in the lower courts, it also appearing that the view that a private action for injunctive or declaratory relief could be maintained under Title VI was supported by judicial authority, subsequent action by Congress, and the legislative history of Title VI.

JUDGES: POWELL, J., announced the Court's judgment and filed an opinion expressing his views of the case, in Parts I, III-A, and V-C of which WHITE, J., joined; and in Parts I and V-C of which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, and BLACKMUN, JJ., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part, post, p. 324. WHITE, J., post, p. 379, MARSHALL, J., post, p. 387, and BLACKMUN, J., post, p. 402, filed separate opinions. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part, in which BURGER, C. J., and STEWART and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined, post, p. 408.

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