Reverse Discrimination the Story of Allan Bakke


Introduction and Background
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 quotas. 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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