Affirmative Action for College? | Regents of the University of California v. Bakke

Affirmative Action for College? | Regents of the University of California v. Bakke

August 30, 2019 94 By Stanley Isaacs


Mr. Beat presents Supreme Court Briefs California
1973 Allan Bakke , a 33-year old man of European origin, wants to be a doctor, and applies to various medical schools. Bakke was an accomplished NASA engineer and Marine Corps veteran who served in Vietnam. He had always done well in school and scored well on the Medical College Admissions Test, or MCAT. Despite all this, all 12 medical schools he applied to rejected him. One of those schools that rejected his admission was the University of California at Davis. Bakke applied there in 1973, and the university committee gave him 468 points out of 500 on their rating scale. A 470 automatically got you in, by the way. Dr. Theodore West, who interviewed Bakke, said he was “a well-qualified candidate for admission whose main hardship is the unavoidable fact that he is now 33.” Dr. West recommended him. Yeah, despite that, Bakke was rejected. He complained to Dr. George Lowrey, the chairman of the admissions committee at the medical school. Lowrey directed him to Assistant Dean Peter Storandt, who probably made the mistake of telling Bakke essentially “yeah, buddy, you were close. You should apply again, and if you don’t get in after the second time, maybe consider suing the college.” Yeah later Storandt likely was fired due to that. So Bakke applied again. And UC Davis rejected him again. In addition, at the time Bakke was rejected, the school had a special admission program, which was basically an affirmative action quota system. Affirmative action, aka positive discrimination, means favoring folks belonging to groups previously discriminated against. And of course the United States had a long history of discriminating against ethnic minorities. The UC Davis med school automatically held 16 spots for each new class of 100 for “qualified” minorities. This meant that several students with considerably lower academic scores than Bakke were admitted due to being a minority. On June 20, 1974, Bakke sued the Regents of the University of California, which was the group that supervised UC Davis. It went through the Superior Court of California in Yolo County. Bakke argued that the special admission program for minorities at UC Davis went against the Civil Rights Act. Specifically, Title 6, which said there should not be discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in any program or activity that gets money from the federal government. UC Davis’s legal team argued that Bakke wouldn’t have been admitted to the medical school even if the special admission program for minorities didn’t exist. On November 20, 1974, judge F. Leslie Manker ruled the program unconstitutional and that racial quotas in general went against the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, and thus, Title 6 of the Civil Rights Act. Manker ordered the medical school to stop the special admission program for minorities. Both Bakke and UC Davis appealed. Bakke, because he still wasn’t admitted to their med school, and UC Davis, because they had to end the special admission program. It went straight to the California Supreme Court. They surprisingly ruled against the college, upholding the lower court’s ruling, 6-1. Justice Stanley Mosk wrote that “no applicant may be rejected because of his race, in favor of another who is less qualified, as measured by standards applied without regard to race.” The California Supreme Court said UC Davis had to prove Bakke wouldn’t have got in under a race-neutral program. When UC Davis couldn’t do that, they ordered the school to let Bakke go there. The Regents of the University of California petitioned the Supreme Court to take a look at the case. The Supreme Court was like “uh…ok” and heard oral arguments on October 12, 1977. This one drew a lot of national attention, and was constantly in the media. The Regents hired a high profile dude to represent them- Archie Cox, a former U.S. Solicitor General. Cox had argued many cases before the Supreme Court, and was even the Watergate special prosecutor. Anyway, the question was fairly straight forward. Did UC Davis go against the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment and also the Civil RIghts Act of 1964, by practicing an affirmative action policy to encourage more minorities in its medical school? Yes…and no. The decision was a straight up mess. Officially, the Court ruled 8-1 in Bakke’s favor. However, that’s very misleading. The Court issued six separate opinions for this case. None of them had the support of a majority of the court. So this was what you call a plurality opinion. I’m not going to go through each opinion. Let’s just simplify this for you. Basically, these four justices agreed with Bakke that the university’s affirmative action quota system violated Title 6 of the Civil Rights Act. These four justices argued that it didn’t. Justice Lewis Powell broke the tie by splitting down the middle, but still on the side of Bakke. So the court ruled 5-4 for Bakke based on the argument that affirmative action programs were ok and could take ethnic background into account. However, fixed quotas for a certain number of minorities was unconstitutional, as the METHODS of affirmative action went against the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. Regents of the University of California v. Bakke banned racial quotas for affirmative action, but still left a lot of confusion regarding how affirmative action could be applied. It became less confusing after the 2003 case Grutter v. Bollinger, but to this day affirmative action is constantly being challenged in court. All we know is that it’s still…legal. So UC Davis admitted Allan Bakke. Bakke, who never liked all the attention he got for this case, quietly graduated from medical school in June 1982, almost ten years after first applying there. His first residency was at the Mayo Clinic. He worked as an anesthesiologist in Minnesota after that all the way until his retirement in 2008, and then sold medical devices after that. He’s still alive. That’s about all we know. Hey I told you, he’s a very private guy. I’ll see you for the next Supreme Court case, jury! This was the first case to look at Affirmative Action and “First” just so happens to be a theme that a lot of Edutubers are collaborating about this week Check out the playlist in the description. And pinned comment for all of the First-themed videos. So what do YOU think about this case? The debate about Affirmative Action continues as the Supreme Court looks at a case called Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard going on right now. It’s about Harvard’s admission policy that several say discriminates against Asian Americans. So check that case out if you haven’t been paying attention. So pay attention, will ya? Thanks for watching.