Regents of the University of California v. Bakke
438 U.S. 265 (1978)


[The facts, summarized by Justice Powell beginning at page 272, include the provisions of the special admissions policy of the Medical School of the University of California at Davis, and Allan Bakke's academic qualifications compared to those of other students admitted.]


The Medical School of the University of California at Davis opened in 1968 with an entering class of 50 students. In 1971, the size of the entering class was increased to 100 students, a level at which it remains. No admissions program for disadvantaged or minority students existed when the school opened, and the first class contained three Asians but no blacks, no Mexican-Americans, and no American Indians. Over the next two years, the faculty devised a special admissions program to increase the representation of "disadvantaged" students in each Medical School class. 1 The special program consisted of [273] a separate admissions system operating in coordination with the regular admissions process.

Under the regular admissions procedure, a candidate could submit his application to the Medical School beginning in July of the year preceding the academic year for which admission was sought. Record 149. Because of the large number of applications, 2 the admissions committee screened each one to select candidates for further consideration. Candidates whose overall undergraduate grade point averages fell below 2.5 on a scale of 4.0 were summarily rejected. Id., at 63. About [274] one out of six applicants was invited for a personal interview. Ibid. Following the interviews, each candidate was rated on a scale of 1 to 100 by his interviewers and four other members of the admissions committee. The rating embraced the interviewers' summaries, the candidate's overall grade point average, grade point average in science courses, scores on the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT), letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities, and other biographical data. Id., at 62. The ratings were added together to arrive at each candidate's "benchmark" score. Since five committee members rated each candidate in 1973, a perfect score was 500; in 1974, six members rated each candidate, so that a perfect score was 600. The full committee then reviewed the file and scores of each applicant and made offers of admission on a "rolling" basis. 3 The chairman was responsible for placing names on the waiting list. They were not placed in strict numerical order; instead, the chairman had discretion to include persons with "special skills." Id., at 63-64.

The special admissions program operated with a separate committee, a majority of whom were members of minority groups. Id., at 163. On the 1973 application form, candidates were asked to indicate whether they wished to be considered as "economically and/or educationally disadvantaged" applicants; on the 1974 form the question was whether they wished to be considered as members of a "minority group," which the Medical School apparently viewed as "Blacks," "Chicanos," "Asians," and "American Indians." Id., at 65-66, 146, 197, 203-205, 216-218. If these questions were answered affirmatively, the application was forwarded to the special admissions committee. No formal definition of "disadvantaged" [275] was ever produced, id., at 163-164, but the chairman of the special committee screened each application to see whether it reflected economic or educational deprivation. 4 Having passed this initial hurdle, the applications then were rated by the special committee in a fashion similar to that used by the general admissions committee, except that special candidates did not have to meet the 2.5 grade point average cutoff applied to regular applicants. About one-fifth of the total number of special applicants were invited for interviews in 1973 and 1974. 5 Following each interview, the special committee assigned each special applicant a benchmark score. The special committee then presented its top choices to the general admissions committee. The latter did not rate or compare the special candidates against the general applicants, id., at 388, but could reject recommended special candidates for failure to meet course requirements or other specific deficiencies. Id., at 171-172. The special committee continued to recommend special applicants until a number prescribed by faculty vote were admitted. While the overall class size was still 50, the prescribed number was 8; in 1973 and 1974, when the class size had doubled to 100, the prescribed number of special admissions also doubled, to 16. Id., at 164, 166.

From the year of the increase in class size—1971—through 1974, the special program resulted in the admission of 21 black students, 30 Mexican-Americans, and 12 Asians, for a total of 63 minority students. Over the same period, the regular admissions program produced 1 black, 6 Mexican-Americans, [276] and 37 Asians, for a total of 44 minority students. 6 Although disadvantaged whites applied to the special program in large numbers, see n. 5, supra, none received an offer of admission through that process. Indeed, in 1974, at least, the special committee explicitly considered only "disadvantaged" special applicants who were members of one of the designated minority groups. Record 171.

Allan Bakke is a white male who applied to the Davis Medical School in both 1973 and 1974. In both years Bakke's application was considered under the general admissions program, and he received an interview. His 1973 interview was with Dr. Theodore C. West, who considered Bakke "a very desirable applicant to [the] medical school." Id., at 225. Despite a strong benchmark score of 468 out of 500, Bakke was rejected. His application had come late in the year, and no applicants in the general admissions process with scores below 470 were accepted after Bakke's application was completed. Id., at 69. There were four special admissions slots unfilled at that time, however, for which Bakke was not considered. Id., at 70. After his 1973 rejection, Bakke wrote to Dr. George H. Lowrey, Associate Dean and Chairman of the Admissions Committee, protesting that the special admissions program operated as a racial and ethnic quota. Id., at 259.

[277] Bakke's 1974 application was completed early in the year. Id., at 70. His student interviewer gave him an overall rating of 94, finding him "friendly, well tempered, conscientious and delightful to speak with." Id., at 229. His faculty interviewer was, by coincidence, the same Dr. Lowrey to whom he had written in protest of the special admissions program. Dr. Lowrey found Bakke "rather limited in his approach" to the problems of the medical profession and found disturbing Bakke's "very definite opinions which were based more on his personal viewpoints than upon a study of the total problem." Id., at 226. Dr. Lowrey gave Bakke the lowest of his six ratings, an 86; his total was 549 out of 600. Id., at 230. Again, Bakke's application was rejected. In neither year did the chairman of the admissions committee, Dr. Lowrey, exercise his discretion to place Bakke on the waiting list. Id., at 64. In both years, applicants were admitted under the special program with grade point averages, MCAT scores, and benchmark scores significantly lower than Bakke's. 7

After the second rejection, Bakke filed the instant suit in the Superior Court of California. 8 He sought mandatory, injunctive, and declaratory relief compelling his admission to the Medical School. He alleged that the Medical School's special admissions program operated to exclude him from the [278] school on the basis of his race, in violation of his rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, 9 Art. I, § 21, of the California Constitution, 10 and § 601 of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 78 Stat. 252, 42 U. S. C. § 2000d. 11 The University cross-complained for a declaration that its special admissions program was lawful. The trial [279] court found that the special program operated as a racial quota, because minority applicants in the special program were rated only against one another, Record 388, and 16 places in the class of 100 were reserved for them. Id., at 295-296. Declaring that the University could not take race into account in making admissions decisions, the trial court held the challenged program violative of the Federal Constitution, the State Constitution, and Title VI. The court refused to order Bakke's admission, however, holding that he had failed to carry his burden of proving that he would have been admitted but for the existence of the special program.

Bakke appealed from the portion of the trial court judgment denying him admission, and the University appealed from the decision that its special admissions program was unlawful and the order enjoining it from considering race in the processing of applications. The Supreme Court of California transferred the case directly from the trial court, "because of the importance of the issues involved." 18 Cal. 3d 34, 39, 553 P. 2d 1152, 1156 (1976). The California court accepted the findings of the trial court with respect to the University's program. 12 Because the special admissions program involved a racial classification, the Supreme Court held itself bound to apply strict scrutiny. Id., at 49, 553 P. 2d, at 1162-1163. It then turned to the goals the University presented as justifying the special program. Although the court agreed that the goals of integrating the medical profession and increasing the number of physicians willing to serve members of minority groups were compelling state interests, id., at 53, 553 P. 2d, at 1165, it concluded that the special admissions program was not the least intrusive means of achieving those goals. Without passing on the state constitutional or the federal statutory grounds cited in the trial court's judgment, the California court held [280] that the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment required 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." Id., at 55, 553 P. 2d, at 1166.

Turning to Bakke's appeal, the court ruled that since Bakke had established that the University had discriminated against him on the basis of his race, the burden of proof shifted to the University to demonstrate that he would not have been admitted even in the absence of the special admissions program. 13 Id., at 63-64, 553 P. 2d, at 1172. The court analogized Bakke's situation to that of a plaintiff under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U. S. C. §§ 2000e-17 (1970 ed., Supp. V), see, e. g., Franks v. Bowman Transportation Co., 424 U.S. 747, 772 (1976). 18 Cal. 3d, at 63-64, 553 P. 2d, at 1172. On this basis, the court initially ordered a remand for the purpose of determining whether, under the newly allocated burden of proof, Bakke would have been admitted to either the 1973 or the 1974 entering class in the absence of the special admissions program. App. A to Application for Stay 48. In its petition for rehearing below, however, the University conceded its inability to carry that burden. App. B to Application for Stay A19-A20. 14 The [281] California court thereupon amended its opinion to direct that the trial court enter judgment ordering Bakke's admission to the Medical School. 18 Cal. 3d, at 64, 553 P. 2d, at 1172. That order was stayed pending review in this Court. 429 U.S. 953 (1976). We granted certiorari to consider the important constitutional issue. 429 U.S. 1090 (1977).

1. Material distributed to applicants for the class entering in 1973 described the special admissions program as follows:

"A special subcommittee of the Admissions Committee, made up of faculty and medical students from minority groups, evaluates applications from economically and/or educationally disadvantaged backgrounds. The applicant may designate on the application form that he or she requests such an evaluation. Ethnic minorities are not categorically considered under the Task Force Program unless they are from disadvantaged backgrounds. Our goals are: 1) A short range goal in the identification and recruitment of potential candidates for admission to medical school in the near future, and 2) Our long-range goal is to stimulate career interest in health professions among junior high and high school students.

"After receiving all pertinent information selected applicants will receive a letter inviting them to our School of Medicine in Davis for an interview. The interviews are conducted by at least one faculty member and one student member of the Task Force Committee. Recommendations are then made to the Admissions Committee of the medical school. Some of the Task Force Faculty are also members of the Admissions Committee.

"Long-range goals will be approached by meeting with counselors and students of schools with large minority populations, as well as with local youth and adult community groups. "Applications for financial aid are available only after the applicant has been accepted and can only be awarded after registration. Financial aid is available to students in the form of scholarships and loans. In addition to the Regents' Scholarships and President's Scholarship programs, the medical school participates in the Health Professions Scholarship Program, which makes funds available to students who otherwise might not be able to pursue a medical education. Other scholarships and awards are available to students who meet special eligibility qualifications. Medical students are also eligible to participate in the Federally Insured Student Loan Program and the American Medical Association Education and Research Foundation Loan Program.

"Applications for Admission are available from:
"Admissions Office
School of Medicine
University of California
Davis, California 95616"
Record 195. The letter distributed the following year was virtually identical, except that the third paragraph was omitted. [return to text]

2. For the 1973 entering class of 100 seats, the Davis Medical School received 2,464 applications. Id., at 117. For the 1974 entering class, 3,737 applications were submitted. Id., at 289. [return to text]

3. That is, applications were considered and acted upon as they were received, so that the process of filling the class took place over a period of months, with later applications being considered against those still on file from earlier in the year. Id., at 64. [return to text]

4. The chairman normally checked to see if, among other things, the applicant had been granted a waiver of the school's application fee, which required a means test; whether the applicant had worked during college or interrupted his education to support himself or his family; and whether the applicant was a member of a minority group. Id., at 65-66. [return to text]

5. For the class entering in 1973, the total number of special applicants was 297, of whom 73 were white. In 1974, 628 persons applied to the special committee, of whom 172 were white. Id., at 133-134. [return to text]

6. The following table provides a year-by-year comparison of minority admissions at the Davis Medical School:

  Special Admissions Program General Admissions Total
  Black Chican Asian Total Black Chican Asian Total  
  1970 5 3 0 8 0 0 4 4 12
  1971 4 9 2 15 1 0 8 9 24
  1972 5 6 5 16 0 0 11 11 27
  1973 6 8 2 16 0 2 13 15 31
  1974 6 7 3 16 0 4 5 9 25

Id., at 216-218. Sixteen persons were admitted under the special program in 1974, ibid., but one Asian withdrew before the start of classes, and the vacancy was filled by a candidate from the general admissions waiting list. Brief for Petitioner 4 n. 5. [return to text]

7. The following table compares Bakke's science grade point average, overall grade point average, and MCAT scores with the average scores of regular admittees and of special admittees in both 1973 and 1974. Record 210, 223, 231, 234:

Class Entering in 1973
SGPA OGPA MCAT (Percentiles)
Verbal Quant. Sci. Gen. Info
3.44 3.46 96 94 97 72
Average of regular admittees
3.51 3.49 81 76 83 69
Average of special admittees
2.62 2.88 46 24 35 33

Class Entering in 1974
MCAT (Percentiles)
        Verbal Quant. Sci. Gen. Info.
Average of regular admittees
Average of special admittees

Applicants admitted under the special program also had benchmark scores significantly lower than many students, including Bakke, rejected under the general admissions program, even though the special rating system apparently gave credit for overcoming "disadvantage." Id., at 181, 388. [return to text]

8. Prior to the actual filing of the suit, Bakke discussed his intentions with Peter C. Storandt, Assistant to the Dean of Admissions at the Davis Medical School. Id., at 259-269. Storandt expressed sympathy for Bakke's position and offered advice on litigation strategy. Several amici imply that these discussions render Bakke's suit "collusive." There is no indication, however, that Storandt's views were those of the Medical School or that anyone else at the school even was aware of Storandt's correspondence and conversations with Bakke. Storandt is no longer with the University. [return to text]

9. "[Nor] shall any State . . . deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." [return to text]

10. "No special privileges or immunities shall ever be granted which may not be altered, revoked, or repealed by the Legislature; nor shall any citizen, or class of citizens, be granted privileges or immunities which, upon the same terms, shall not be granted to all citizens."

This section was recently repealed and its provisions added to Art. I, § 7, of the State Constitution. [return to text]

11. Section 601 of Title VI, 78 Stat. 252, provides as follows: "No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance." [return to text]

12. Indeed, the University did not challenge the finding that applicants who were not members of a minority group were excluded from consideration in the special admissions process. 18 Cal. 3d, at 44, 553 P. 2d, at 1159. [return to text]

13. Petitioner has not challenged this aspect of the decision. The issue of the proper placement of the burden of proof, then, is not before us. [return to text]

14. Several amici suggest that Bakke lacks standing, arguing that he never showed that his injury -- exclusion from the Medical School -- will be redressed by a favorable decision, and that the petitioner "fabricated" jurisdiction by conceding its inability to meet its burden of proof. Petitioner does not object to Bakke's standing, but inasmuch as this charge concerns our jurisdiction under Art. III, it must be considered and rejected. First, there appears to be no reason to question the petitioner's concession. It was not an attempt to stipulate to a conclusion of law or to disguise actual facts of record. Cf. Swift & Co. v. Hocking Valley R. Co., 243 U.S. 281 (1917).

Second, even if Bakke had been unable to prove that he would have been admitted in the absence of the special program, it would not follow that he lacked standing. The constitutional element of standing is plaintiff's demonstration of any injury to himself that is likely to be redressed by favorable decision of his claim. Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 498 (1975). The trial court found such an injury, apart from failure to be admitted, in the University's decision not to permit Bakke to compete for all 100 places in the class, simply because of his race. Record 323. Hence the constitutional requirements of Art. III were met. The question of Bakke's admission vel non is merely one of relief.

Nor is it fatal to Bakke's standing that he was not a "disadvantaged" applicant. Despite the program's purported emphasis on disadvantage, it was a minority enrollment program with a secondary disadvantage element. White disadvantaged students were never considered under the special program, and the University acknowledges that its goal in devising the program was to increase minority enrollment. [return to text]