Official Name: Regents of the University of California v. Bakke
Court: U.S. Supreme Court (on appeal from the California Supreme Court which struck down the program and entered an order prohibiting any use of race in admissions)
Date: Decided in 1978
Program Challenged: The case involves the admissions program to the University of California Medical School at Davis. Out of an entering class of 100, UC set aside 16 spaces for students admitted through a “special admissions program” for minority applicants.
Supreme Court Decision: A majority of the Supreme Court – five justices -- held that while the UC program was unconstitutional because it involved a quota, it was lawful to take race into account in admissions. Justices Brennan, Blackmun, Marshall and White (the so-called “Brennan 4”) joined in Section V(C) of Justice Powell’s opinion which says:
“In enjoining petitioner from ever considering the race of any applicant, however, the courts below failed to recognize that the State has a substantial interest that legitimately may be served by a properly devised admissions program involving the competitive consideration of race and ethnic origin. For this reason, so much of the California court's judgment as enjoins petitioner from any consideration of the race of any applicant must be reversed.”
The other four justices (Stevens, Burger, Stewart and Rehnquist) agreed that the UC quota program was unlawful but they would not have decided it under the constitution. Rather, they would have ruled it unlawful under Title VI, the federal civil rights statute.
There were six opinions written. Justice Powell’s opinion is the controlling opinion of the Court because his opinion is the narrowest ground supporting the majority’s conclusion that race can be used in college admissions. The three major opinions are summarized below.
Justice Powell’s Opinion: Justice Powell wrote the controlling opinion of the Court because his opinion is the narrowest ground supporting the use of race in college admissions. Powell wrote that the use of race should be subject to “strict scrutiny” meaning that: (1) there…