Ed Barton, LLM, CPA, CFA

Regents of the University of California v. Bakke

Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, 438 US 265 (1978)

Facts

Allan Bakke applied to the UC Davis Medical program in 1973 and 1974.  Despite a high rating in both years, he was rejected for admission. During the same time period, UC Davis administered an admissions program for economically and racially disadvantaged students. Students were admitted to the UC Davis program with GPAs, MCT scores, and benchmark scores significantly lower than Bakke in both years. Bakke sued to allege that he was being discriminated against based on his race in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the California State Constitution, and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The trial court found that the program violated Bakke’s civil rights but did not order him admitted. On appeal, the California Supreme Court ordered Bakke to admit and upheld the unconstitutionality of the program. UC Davis appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

Issues

Whether the UC Davis program violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause by practicing race-based admissions resulting in Bakke’s rejection for admission to medical school.

Held

8-1 for Bakke and 5-4 for Bakke.

Reasoning

Any racial or ethnic classifications call for strict judicial scrutiny. While a diverse student body is a compelling interest to consider race in admissions decisions, any admissions program limited by race is a violation of the constitution. In this case, the UC Davis program was reserved for and set aside admissions slots for certain races. This construct is an unconstitutional construct violating the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This reasoning was agreed to by 8 of the justices in multiple separate opinions.  

Opinion and Comments

The consensus of the court – with all justices but Justice White at least concurring in part, was that exclusion of a student from a program based solely on their race was a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, the justices split on whether the university could use race at all in the admissions process – and the case generated five separate opinions resulting in four separate decisions.

By a vote of 8-1, with Justice White dissenting, the court found that Bakke’s had the ability to bring an action to preserve his rights under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, by a vote of 5-4, the court ruled that UC Davis’ use of race in admissions was not a prima facie violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or the Fourteenth Amendment. However, by a vote of 5-4, the Court found that the construct of UC Davis’ admissions program did, in fact, violate the Fourteenth Amendment in that it was solely race-based.

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