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, while 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. 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.”
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 order. However, the University appealed to the Supreme Court for “certiorari”, which was granted, and the order to admit Bakke was suspended pending the Court’s decision.
“Bakke was the most significant civil rights case to reach the United States Supreme Court since Brown v. Board the Education of Topeka, Kansas.” 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 segregation.
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 affirmative 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 benefitting 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 because 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 divided 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 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 because 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 isolate the individual from comparison with all other candidates for the available seats.”
“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.” 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 question. “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.” Therefore, the university had violated that part of the 1964 Civil Right s Act.
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
establishment of the… quota system. Not even the desire to remedy past discrimination was a sufficient justification, he said.” 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.