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The Allan Bakke Case


In 1973 a thirty-three year-old Caucasian male named Allan
Bakke applied to and was denied admission to the University
of California Medical School at Davis. In 1974 he filed
another application and was once again rejected, even
though his t est scores were considerably higher than
various minorities that were admitted under a special
program. This special program specified that 16 out of 100
possible spaces for the students in the medical program
were set aside solely for minorities, w hile the other 84
slots were for anyone who qualified, including minorities.
What happened to Bakke is known as reverse discrimination.
Bakke felt his rejections to be violations of the Equal
Protection Clause of the 14th amendment, so he took the
University of California Regents to the Superior Court of
California. It was ruled that "the admissions program
violated his rights under the Equal Protection Clause of
the 14th Amendment"1 The clause reads as follows: "...No
state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the
privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States;
nor without due process of the law; nor deny to any person
within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."2
The court ruled that race could not be a factor in
admissions. However, they did not force the admittance of
Bakke because the court could not know if he would have
been admitted if the special admissions program for
minorities did not exist . Bakke disagreed with the court
on this issue and he brought it before the California
Supreme Court.
The California Supreme Court held that it was the
University's burden to prove that Bakke would not have been
admitted if the special program was not in effect. The
school could not meet this requirement, and Bakke was
admitted by court orde r. However, the University appealed
to the Supreme Court for "certiorari", which was granted,
and the order to admit Bakke was suspended pending
thCourt's decision.3 The Issues and Arguments for Each Side
"Bakke was the most significant civil rights case to reach
the United States Supreme Court since Brown v. Board the
Education of Topeka, Kansas."4 The special admissions
program at Davis tried to further integrate the higher
education system because merely removing the barriers, as
the Brown case did, did not always work. In short, Bakke
was questioning how far the University of California
Medical School at Davis could go the try to make up for
past racial discrimination and segregatio n.
The arguments for and against the special admissions
program are complicated. The arguments for special
admissions are as follows: Because of past injustices,
compensation should be granted to minorities, and one
possible form is as affirma tive action, which, in this
case, is the role of the special admissions program. In
addition, racial diversity in educational institutions was
seen as a plus. The diversity would teach students more
about different races and religions and prepare t hem for
the future when they would most likely have to work along
side someone different from themselves. Hopefully,
minorities in professional areas would return to their
minority community and be seen as a role model for minority
youth while benef itting the entire community as well. The
final argument for the special admissions program is that
advantage should not be associated with race, i.e. because
one is of the Caucasian majority he/she should not have
more advantages and likewise becaus e one is of a minority
he/she should not be disadvantaged.
The arguments against the special admissions program were
based upon the fact that the Constitution was intended to
overlook race and ethnicity in public authority and
decisions. The fault in special admissions programs is that
they will us e skin color as a more important factor than
academic and personal merit. Thus, those who deserve
advancement may not receive it, due to affirmative action
and the associated reverse discrimination. By doing so, the
various ethnic groups will be di vided and possibly end up
competing. Another problem with the special admissions
program is that it does not take into account the
disadvantaged who are in the majority, not the minority.
And finally, it is seen as charity to the minorities by
many individuals and civil rights groups. The Opinion of
the Supreme Court
The decision of the Supreme Court was seen as "something
for everyone." In other words, each side, although not
completely gaining their ends, furthered their cause. The
special admissions program at Davis was deemed
unconstitutional becaus e it specified a number of minority
slots. However, the court upheld the use of race or
ethnicity as "a 'plus' in a particular applicant's file, so
long as it does not insulate the individual from comparison
with all other candidates for the availab le seats."5
"Justice Powell was the key to the Bakke decision; In fact,
it could be said that he created both majorities in
addition to merely agreeing with them."6 The decision to do
away with the Davis special admissions quota system was
supported by Powell, Chief Justice Burger, Justice
Rehnquist, Justice Potter Stewart, and Justice John Paul
Stevens. They saw the Bakke case as a dispute which could
be settled by the 1964 Civil Rights Act without even
calling constitutional matters into questi on. "Title VI of
the act, they pointed out, barred any discrimination on the
ground of race, color, or national origin in any program
receiving federal financial assistance."7 Therefore, the
university had violated that part of the 1964 Civil Right s
However, Powell thought differently. Instead of ruling out
constitutional involvement, he saw the equal protection
clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and Title IV of the 1964
Civil Rights Act as equal. Therefore, he said, "what
violated one violated the other.
"The Davis special admissions program used an explicit
racial classification, Powell noted. Such classifications
were not always unconstitutional, he continued, 'but when a
state's distribution of benefits or imposition of burdens
hinges on. .. the color of a person's skin or ancestry,
that individual is entitled to demonstration that the
challenged classification is necessary to promote a
substantial state interest.' Powell could find no
substantial interest that justified the establis hment of
the... quota system. Not even the desire to remedy past
discrimination was a sufficient justification, he said."8
Powell did not agree completely that all racial
classifications were unconstitutional. He did think that
affirmative action, when it considered race, was okay. He
demonstrated this when he voted on this point with Justices
Brennan, Marshal, White, and Harry A. Blackmun.
After eight months, a vote of 5-4 decided that Bakke be
admitted to the medical school at Davis. The decision on
the constitutional issue was that a numerical quota was
unconstitutional unless it was used to right a previous
discrimination. However, using race and religion as a plus
in educational admissions was deemed constitutional. My
Personal Opinion and Arguments
I agree partly with the ruling of the Supreme Court. The
decision that Bakke's Constitutional rights were violated I
feel is correct. However, if they were, than any quota
based on race is unconstitutional also. Whether or not
there is an actual number for a quota, or just a preference
to admit someone of a non-Caucasian race to an educational
institution merely because of their race. This may curb
someone's opportunities just because they were white. This
IS reverse discrimination, and it should not be practiced.
Race should NOT be considered at all in any admissions
program that is federally funded. By trying to right past
wrongs on minorities by incurring wrongs on the majority
today, it will start a cycle that will, in th e worst case,
be never ending. For example, if yesterday a Negro could
not get into a college because of discrimination, then
today we'll let him in because we want to try to right the
wrong of yesterday. But in doing so, we must not admit a
white because he is white. And then tomorrow do we have to
keep out a black to let the white in? It is an endless
cycle that is wrong and unconstitutional. Race should be
overlooked all together, and only academic merit and
community involvement should be considered in any federally
funded institution. Relevance to Current Issues
Affirmative action has recently become an issue in the
Supreme Court again. Because Clarence Thomas is replacing
Thurgood Marshall, and Thomas is against Affirmative
Action, and Marshall was for it, the past decision may be
overturned. In a 1989 case it was ruled that the legacy of
discrimination was not enough to validate the use of hiring
This term, the Supreme Court will turn towards
desegregation and Affirmative Action. The Freeman v. Pitts
case is another recent case dealing with whether bussing is
still needed to curb past discrimination. Another case that
the court has accepted for this term will examine whether
colleges should eliminate racial preference systems in
admissions or whether quotas are still needed to further
curtail the use of affirmative action. The name of this
case and the specific facts, however, were unavailable at
this time.9
Obviously affirmative action and reverse discrimination are
still heavily debated issues. This is because they affect
all people of all races and ethnicities. Conclusion
Allan Bakke was denied his fourteenth amendment right to
equal protection of the laws. In addition the University of
California at Davis violated Title IV of the 1964 Civil
Rights Act. By order of the Supreme Court Bakke was
admitted and th e numerical quotas of the special
admissions program were deemed unconstitutional.
Justice was served to Bakke, but future generations who are
not minorities may be plagued by the other half of the
decision: That race may still be used as a "plus " on an


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