Regents of the Univ. of Cal. v. Bakke | 1978
Georgetown University Law Center
Former Acting U.S. Solicitor General
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  • Regents of the University of California v. Bakke full program
  • Diversity: The Invention of a Concept
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  • Reaction to the Bakke Decision at UC Davis Medical School
  • Allan Bakke's Reaction to Supreme Court Decision & Med School Graduation
  • Robert Bork on Likely Legal Legacy of Bakke Decision
  • Thurgood Marshall's Letter to the NAACP
  • U.S. Supreme Court Document Accepting the Bakke Case
  • Memos by Supreme Court Justices Considering Bakke
  • Justice Scalia on Affirmative Action
  • President Bush on Affirmative Action
  • Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor at Stanford Law School
Subject: Affirmative Action & Reverse Discrimination
Case Decided:
June 26, 1978

Regents of the University of California v. Bakke was a controversial case challenging the legal grounding of affirmative action programs in college admissions. A difficult decision for the Justices, the Court decided that affirmative action in college admissions was constitutional, but that racial quotas like those used by the University of California at the time, were not.

Allan Bakke, a white male in his mid-30s, sued the University of California after being denied admission to the medical school at the college's campus in the city of Davis. Once discovering the school had reserved seats for people of color, Bakke sued the university for “reverse discrimination.” The lower courts sided with Bakke and determined that the special admissions process was a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and that racial quotas violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

After reaching the Supreme Court through a series of appeals, the Court determined that the university could use race to evaluate candidates, but could not admit students using a racial quota. In a split decision, the court ordered the school admit Bakke. Bakke lives in Minnesota and has never given an interview after the case was decided.

The Bakke decision wasn't the last time the Court decided cases regarding college admission policies. In Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger, both decided in 2003, the Court again considered admissions practices, this time for the University of Michigan's undergraduate and law schools. In the former case, the Court ruled again that affirmative action policies were constitutional, while in the second case reaffirming the Court's assertion in Bakke that quota systems were unconstitutional.

Key Players
Regents of the University of California
Regents of the University of California is the governing board for the University of California system.
Allan Bakke
Allan Bakke was a former U.S. Marine and has a degree in mechanical engineering. Bakke applied to the University of California’s medical school and was twice denied admission. After discovering that the university reserved spots for minority applicants as part of the school's affirmative action program, Bakke sued the school. He argued that the affirmative action program prevented him, as a white applicant, from entering and violated his rights under Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution.
Justice Thurgood Marshall
Thurgood Marshall (July 2, 1908 - January 24, 1993) was a lawyer, civil rights advocate and the first African-American justice. Known for his ardent support of individual rights, Justice Marshall's dissent in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke called the decision "ironic" stating, "after several hundred years of class-based discrimination against Negroes, the Court is unwilling to hold that a class-based remedy for that discrimination is permissible."
Plurality Opinion:
Concurring in Part, Dissenting in Part:
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