Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Bakke in University of California v. Bakke

Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265 (1978) was a landmark decision of the Supreme Court of the United States on affirmative action.

It bars quota systems in college admissions but affirms the constitutionality of affirmative action programs.

The court ruled 5-4 in Bakke's favor on June 23, 1978. Justice Lewis Powell delivered the opinion of the court that race could be only one of numerous factors used by discriminatory boards, such as those of college admissions. Powell found that quotas insulated minority applicants from competition with the regular applicants and were thus unconstitutional because they discriminated against non-minority applicants. Powell however stated that universities could use race as a plus factor. He cited the Harvard College Admissions Program which had been filed as an amicus curiae as an example of a constitutionally valid affirmative action program which took into account all of an applicant's qualities including race in a "holistic review".

The decision was split with four justices firmly against all use of race in admissions processes, four justices for the use of race in university admissions, and Justice Powell, who was against the UC Davis Medical School quota system of admission, but found that universities were allowed to use race as a factor in admission. Title VI of the civil rights statute prohibits racial discrimination in any institution that receives federal funding. Burger, Stewart, Rehnquist, and Stevens supported a strict interpretation of that and supported Bakke's side of the case. Brennan, Marshall, Blackmun, and White did not like this strict scrutiny and tolerated this violation because of the socio-political ramifications. The nature of this split opinion created controversy over whether Powell's opinion was binding. However, in 2003, in Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger, the Supreme Court affirmed Powell's opinion, rejecting "quotas", but allowing race to be one "factor" in college admissions to meet the compelling interest of "diversity".

From the late 1960s on, local governments and businesses attempted to level the economic playing field through a set of assistance programs for minorities known as Affirmative Action. Although opponents claimed that Affirmative Action gave minorities an unfair advantage, those in favor argued that the strategy reduced the towering advantages of patronage, exclusive experience and economic power that whites had enjoyed for centuries. In 1974, Allan Bakke, a white applicant to medical school, sued the University of California, claiming that he had suffered discrimination when less qualified minority students were given places in the medical school class that rejected him. The case went to the Supreme Court.