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


YES! Justice POWELL: Title VI proscribes only those racial classifications that would violate the Equal Protection Clause or the Fifth Amendment. Race-based decisions that are not barred by the Constitution are not barred by Title VI.

NO! Justice STEVENS, joined by Chief Justice BURGER, and Justices STEWART and REHNQUIST: Title VI is no mere constitutional appendage. In unmistakable terms, it prohibits the exclusion of individuals from federally funded programs because of their race.

Justice Powell

II - B

[Page 284]
The language of § 601, 78 Stat. 252, like that of the Equal Protection Clause, is majestic in its sweep: "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."

The concept of "discrimination," like the phrase "equal protection of the laws," is susceptible of varying interpretations, for as Mr. Justice Holmes declared, "[a] word is not a crystal, transparent and unchanged, it is the skin of a living thought and may vary greatly in color and content according to the circumstances and the time in which it is used." Towne v. Eisner, 245 U.S. 418, 425 (1918). We must, therefore, seek whatever aid is available in determining the precise meaning of the statute before us. Train v. Colorado Public Interest Research Group, 426 U.S. 1, 10 (1976), quoting United States v. American Trucking Assns., 310 U.S. 534, 543-544 (1940). Examination of the voluminous legislative history of Title VI reveals a congressional intent to halt federal funding of entities that violate a prohibition of racial discrimination similar to that of the Constitution. Although isolated statements of various legislators, taken out of context, can be marshaled in support of the proposition that § 601 enacted a purely colorblind scheme, 19 without regard to the reach of the Equal [285] Protection Clause, these comments must be read against the background of both the problem that Congress was addressing and the broader view of the statute that emerges from a full examination of the legislative debates.

The problem confronting Congress was discrimination against Negro citizens at the hands of recipients of federal moneys. Indeed, the color blindness pronouncements cited in the margin at n. 19, generally occur in the midst of extended remarks dealing with the evils of segregation in federally funded programs. Over and over again, proponents of the bill detailed the plight of Negroes seeking equal treatment in such programs. 20 There simply was no reason for Congress to consider the validity of hypothetical preferences that might be accorded minority citizens; the legislators were dealing with the real and pressing problem of how to guarantee those citizens equal treatment.

In addressing that problem, supporters of Title VI repeatedly declared that the bill enacted constitutional principles. For example, Representative Celler, the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and floor manager of the legislation in the House, emphasized this in introducing the bill:

  "The bill would offer assurance that hospitals financed by Federal money would not deny adequate care to Negroes. It would prevent abuse of food distribution programs whereby Negroes have been known to be denied food [286] surplus supplies when white persons were given such food. It would assure Negroes the benefits now accorded only white students in programs of high[er] education financed by Federal funds. It would, in short, assure the existing right to equal treatment in the enjoyment of Federal funds. It would not destroy any rights of private property or freedom of association." 110 Cong. Rec. 1519 (1964) (emphasis added).

Other sponsors shared Representative Celler's view that Title VI embodied constitutional principles. 21

In the Senate, Senator Humphrey declared that the purpose of Title VI was "to insure that Federal funds are spent in accordance with the Constitution and the moral sense of the Nation." Id., at 6544. Senator Ribicoff agreed that Title VI embraced the constitutional standard: "Basically, there is a constitutional restriction against discrimination in the use of federal funds; and title VI simply spells out the procedure to be used in enforcing that restriction." Id., at 13333. Other Senators expressed similar views. 22

Further evidence of the incorporation of a constitutional standard into Title VI appears in the repeated refusals of the legislation's supporters precisely to define the term "discrimination." Opponents sharply criticized this failure, 23 but proponents of the bill merely replied that the meaning of [287] "discrimination" would be made clear by reference to the Constitution or other existing law. For example, Senator Humphrey noted the relevance of the Constitution:

  "As I have said, the bill has a simple purpose. That purpose is to give fellow citizens—Negroes—the same rights and opportunities that white people take for granted. This is no more than what was preached by the prophets, and by Christ Himself. It is no more than what our Constitution guarantees." Id., at 6553. 24

In view of the clear legislative intent, Title VI must be held to proscribe only those racial classifications that would violate the Equal Protection Clause or the Fifth Amendment.

Footnotes for Justice Powell:

19. [Powell] For example, Senator Humphrey stated as follows: "Racial discrimination or segregation in the administration of disaster relief is particularly shocking; and offensive to our sense of justice and fair play. Human suffering draws no color lines, and the administration of help to the sufferers should not." Id., at 6547. See also id., at 12675 (remarks of Sen. Allott); 6561 (remarks of Sen. Kuchel); 2494, 6047 (remarks of Sen. Pastore). But see id., at 15893 (remarks of Rep. MacGregor); 13821 (remarks of Sen. Saltonstall); 10920 (remarks of Sen. Javits); 5266, 5807 (remarks of Sen. Keating). [return to text]

20. [Powell] See, e. g., id., at 7064-7065 (remarks of Sen. Ribicoff); 7054-7055 (remarks of Sen. Pastore); 6543-6544 (remarks of Sen. Humphrey); 2595 (remarks of Rep. Donohue); 2467-2468 (remarks of Rep. Celler); 1643, 2481-2482 (remarks of Rep. Ryan); H. R. Rep. No. 914, 88th Cong., 1st Sess., pt. 2, pp. 24-25 (1963). [return to text]

21. [Powell] See, e. g., 110 Cong. Rec. 2467 (1964) (remarks of Rep. Lindsay). See also id., at 2766 (remarks of Rep. Matsunaga); 2731-2732 (remarks of Rep. Dawson); 2595 (remarks of Rep. Donohue); 1527-1528 (remarks of Rep. Celler). [return to text]

22. [Powell] See, e. g., id., at 12675, 12677 (remarks of Sen. Allott); 7064 (remarks of Sen. Pell); 7057, 7062-7064 (remarks of Sen. Pastore); 5243 (remarks of Sen. Clark). [return to text]

23. [Powell] See, e. g., id., at 6052 (remarks of Sen. Johnston); 5863 (remarks of Sen. Eastland); 5612 (remarks of Sen. Ervin); 5251 (remarks of Sen. Talmadge); 1632 (remarks of Rep. Dowdy); 1619 (remarks of Rep. Abernethy). [return to text]

24. [Powell] See also id., at 7057, 13333 (remarks of Sen. Ribicoff); 7057 (remarks of Sen. Pastore); 5606-5607 (remarks of Sen. Javits); 5253, 5863-5864, 13442 (remarks of Sen. Humphrey).[return to text]

Justice Stevens


[page 412]
Section 601 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 78 Stat. 252, 42 U. S. C. § 2000d, provides:

  "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."

The University, through its special admissions policy, excluded Bakke from participation in its program of medical education because of his race. The University also acknowledges that it was, and still is, receiving federal financial assistance. 9 The plain language of the statute therefore requires affirmance of the judgment below. A different result cannot be justified [413] unless that language misstates the actual intent of the Congress that enacted the statute or the statute is not enforceable in a private action. Neither conclusion is warranted.

Title VI is an integral part of the far-reaching Civil Rights Act of 1964. No doubt, when this legislation was being debated, Congress was not directly concerned with the legality of "reverse discrimination" or "affirmative action" programs. Its attention was focused on the problem at hand, the "glaring . . . discrimination against Negroes which exists throughout our Nation," 10 and, with respect to Title VI, the federal funding of segregated facilities. 11 The genesis of the legislation, however, did not limit the breadth of the solution adopted. Just as Congress responded to the problem of employment discrimination by enacting a provision that protects all races, see McDonald v. Santa Fe Trail Transp. Co., 427 U.S. 273, 279, 12 so, too, its answer to the problem of federal funding of segregated facilities stands as a broad prohibition against the exclusion of any individual from a federally funded program "on the ground of race." In the words of the House Report, Title VI stands for "the general principle that no person . . . be excluded from participation . . . on the ground of race, color, or national origin under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance." H. R. Rep. No. 914, 88th [414] Cong., 1st Sess., pt. 1, p. 25 (1963) (emphasis added). This same broad view of Title VI and § 601 was echoed throughout the congressional debate and was stressed by every one of the major spokesmen for the Act. 13

Petitioner contends, however, that exclusion of applicants on the basis of race does not violate Title VI if the exclusion carries with it no racial stigma. No such qualification or limitation of § 601's categorical prohibition of "exclusion" is justified by the statute or its history. The language of the entire section is perfectly clear; the words that follow "excluded from" do not modify or qualify the explicit outlawing of any exclusion on the stated grounds.

The legislative history reinforces this reading. The only suggestion that § 601 would allow exclusion of nonminority applicants came from opponents of the legislation and then only by way of a discussion of the meaning of the word "discrimination." 14 The opponents feared that the term "discrimination" would be read as [415] mandating racial quotas and "racially balanced" colleges and universities, and they pressed for a specific definition of the term in order to avoid this possibility. 15 In response, the proponents of the legislation gave repeated assurances that the Act would be "colorblind" in its application. 16 Senator Humphrey, the Senate floor manager for the Act, expressed this position as follows:

  "[The] word 'discrimination' has been used in many a court case. What it really means in the bill is a distinction in treatment . . . given to different individuals because of their different race, religion or national origin. . . . "The answer to this question [what was meant by 'discrimination'] is that if race is not a factor, we do not have to worry about discrimination because of race. . . . The Internal Revenue Code does not provide that colored people do not have to pay taxes, or that they can pay their taxes 6 months later than everyone else." 110 Cong. Rec. 5864 (1964). "[If] we started to treat Americans as Americans, not as fat ones, thin ones, short ones, tall ones, brown ones, green ones, yellow ones, or white ones, but as Americans. If we did that we would not need to worry about discrimination." Id., at 5866.

[416] In giving answers such as these, it seems clear that the proponents of Title VI assumed that the Constitution itself required a colorblind standard on the part of government, 17 but that does not mean that the legislation only codifies an existing constitutional prohibition. The statutory prohibition against discrimination in federally funded projects contained in § 601 is more than a simple paraphrasing of what the Fifth or Fourteenth Amendment would require. The Act's proponents plainly considered Title VI consistent with their view of the Constitution and they sought to provide an effective weapon to implement that view. 18 As a distillation of what the supporters of the Act believed the Constitution demanded of State and Federal Governments, § 601 has independent force, with language and emphasis in addition to that found in the Constitution. 19

[417] As with other provisions of the Civil Rights Act, Congress' expression of its policy to end racial discrimination may independently proscribe conduct that the Constitution does not. 20 However, we need not decide the congruence—or lack of congruence—of the controlling statute and the Constitution [418] since the meaning of the Title VI ban on exclusion is crystal clear: Race cannot be the basis of excluding anyone from participation in a federally funded program.

In short, nothing in the legislative history justifies the conclusion that the broad language of § 601 should not be given its natural meaning. We are dealing with a distinct statutory prohibition, enacted at a particular time with particular concerns in mind; neither its language nor any prior interpretation suggests that its place in the Civil Rights Act, won after long debate, is simply that of a constitutional appendage. 21 In unmistakable terms the Act prohibits the exclusion of individuals from federally funded programs because of their race. 22 As succinctly phrased during the Senate debate, under Title VI it is not "permissible to say 'yes' to one person; but to say 'no' to another person, only because of the color of his skin." 23 . . . .

[421] . . . . The University's special admissions program violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by excluding Bakke from the Medical School because of his race. It is therefore our duty to affirm the judgment ordering Bakke admitted to the University.

Footnotes for Justice Stevens:

9. [Stevens] Record 29. [return to text]

10. [Stevens] H. R. Rep. No. 914, 88th Cong., 1st Sess., pt. 1, p. 18 (1963). [return to text]

11. [Stevens] It is apparent from the legislative history that the immediate object of Title VI was to prevent federal funding of segregated facilities. See, e. g., 110 Cong. Rec. 1521 (1964) (remarks of Rep. Celler); id., at 6544 (remarks of Sen. Humphrey). [return to text]

12. [Stevens] In McDonald v. Santa Fe Trail Transp. Co., the Court held that "Title VII prohibits racial discrimination against . . . white petitioners . . . upon the same standards as would be applicable were they Negroes . . . ." 427 U.S., at 280. Quoting from our earlier decision in Griggs v. Duke Power Co., 401 U.S. 424, 431, the Court reaffirmed the principle that the statute "[prohibits] '[discriminatory] preference for any [racial] group, minority or majority.'" 427 U.S., at 279 (emphasis in original). [return to text]

13. [Stevens] See, e. g., 110 Cong. Rec. 1520 (1964) (remarks of Rep. Celler); id., at 5864 (remarks of Sen. Humphrey); id., at 6561 (remarks of Sen. Kuchel); id., at 7055 (remarks of Sen. Pastore). (Representative Celler and Senators Humphrey and Kuchel were the House and Senate floor managers for the entire Civil Rights Act, and Senator Pastore was the majority Senate floor manager for Title VI.) [return to text]

14. [Stevens] Representative Abernethy's comments were typical: "Title VI has been aptly described as the most harsh and unprecedented proposal contained in the bill . . . . It is aimed toward eliminating discrimination in federally assisted programs. It contains no guideposts and no yardsticks as to what might constitute discrimination in carrying out federally aided programs and projects. . . . Presumably the college would have to have a 'racially balanced' staff from the dean's office to the cafeteria. . . . The effect of this title, if enacted into law, will interject race as a factor in every decision involving the selection of an individual . . . . The concept of 'racial imbalance' would hover like a black cloud over every transaction . . . ." Id., at 1619. See also, e. g., id., at 5611-5613 (remarks of Sen. Ervin); id., at 9083 (remarks of Sen. Gore). [return to text]

15. [Stevens] E. g., id., at 5863, 5874 (remarks of Sen. Eastland). [return to text]

16. [Stevens] See, e. g., id., at 8346 (remarks of Sen. Proxmire) ("Taxes are collected from whites and Negroes, and they should be expended without discrimination"); id., at 7055 (remarks of Sen. Pastore) ("[Title VI] will guarantee that the money collected by colorblind tax collectors will be distributed by Federal and State administrators who are equally colorblind"); and id., at 6543 (remarks of Sen. Humphrey) ("'Simple justice requires that public funds, to which all taxpayers of all races contribute, not be spent in any fashion which encourages, entrenches, subsidizes, or results in racial discrimination'") (quoting from President Kennedy's Message to Congress, June 19, 1963). [return to text]

17. [Stevens] See, e. g., 110 Cong. Rec. 5253 (1964) (remarks of Sen. Humphrey); and id., at 7102 (remarks of Sen. Javits). The parallel between the prohibitions of Title VI and those of the Constitution was clearest with respect to the immediate goal of the Act -- an end to federal funding of "separate but equal" facilities.[return to text]

18. [Stevens] "As in Monroe [v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167], we have no occasion here to 'reach the constitutional question whether Congress has the power to make municipalities liable for acts of its officers that violate the civil rights of individuals.' 365 U.S., at 191. For in interpreting the statute it is not our task to consider whether Congress was mistaken in 1871 in its view of the limits of its power over municipalities; rather, we must construe the statute in light of the impressions under which Congress did in fact act, see Ries v. Lynskey, 452 F.2d, at 175." Moor v. County of Alameda, 411 U.S. 693, 709. [return to text]

19. [Stevens] Both Title VI and Title VII express Congress' belief that, in the long struggle to eliminate social prejudice and the effects of prejudice, the principle of individual equality, without regard to race or religion, was one on which there could be a "meeting of the minds" among all races and a common national purpose. See Los Angeles Dept. of Water & Power v. Manhart, 435 U.S. 702, 709 ("[The] basic policy of the statute [Title VII] requires that we focus on fairness to individuals rather than fairness to classes"). This same principle of individual fairness is embodied in Title VI.

  "The basic fairness of title VI is so clear that I find it difficult to understand why it should create any opposition. . . .
Private prejudices, to be sure, cannot be eliminated overnight. However, there is one area where no room at all exists for private prejudices. That is the area of governmental conduct. As the first Mr. Justice Harlan said in his prophetic dissenting opinion in Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537, 559:
"'Our Constitution is color-blind.' So -- I say to Senators -- must be our Government. . . . Title VI closes the gap between our purposes as a democracy and our prejudices as individuals. The cuts of prejudice need healing. The costs of prejudice need understanding. We cannot have hostility between two great parts of our people without tragic loss in our human values . . . .
Title VI offers a place for the meeting of our minds as to Federal money." 110 Cong. Rec. 7063-7064 (1964) (remarks of Sen. Pastore).

Of course, one of the reasons marshaled in support of the conclusion that Title VI was "noncontroversial" was that its prohibition was already reflected in the law. See ibid. (remarks of Sen. Pell and Sen. Pastore). [return to text]

20. [Stevens] For example, private employers now under duties imposed by Title VII were wholly free from the restraints imposed by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments which are directed only to governmental action.

In Lau v. Nichols, 414 U.S. 563, the Government's brief stressed that "the applicability of Title VI . . . does not depend upon the outcome of the equal protection analysis. . . . [The] statute independently proscribes the conduct challenged by petitioners and provides a discrete basis for injunctive relief." Brief for United States as Amicus Curiae, O. T. 1973, No. 72-6520, p. 15. The Court, in turn, rested its decision on Title VI. Mr. Justice POWELL takes pains to distinguish Lau from the case at hand because the Lau decision "rested solely on the statute." Ante, at 304. See also Washington v. Davis, 426 U.S. 229, 238-239; Allen v. State Board of Elections, 393 U.S. 544, 588 (Harlan, J., concurring and dissenting). [return to text]

21. [Stevens] As explained by Senator Humphrey, § 601 expresses a principle imbedded in the constitutional and moral understanding of the times.

  "The purpose of title VI is to make sure that funds of the United States are not used to support racial discrimination. In many instances the practices of segregation or discrimination, which title VI seeks to end, are unconstitutional. . . . In all cases, such discrimination is contrary to national policy, and to the moral sense of the Nation. Thus, title VI is simply designed to insure that Federal funds are spent in accordance with the Constitution and the moral sense of the Nation." 110 Cong. Rec. 6544 (1964) (emphasis added). [return to text]

22. [Stevens] Petitioner's attempt to rely on regulations issued by HEW for a contrary reading of the statute is unpersuasive. Where no discriminatory policy was in effect, HEW's example of permissible "affirmative action" refers to "special recruitment policies." 45 CFR § 80.5 (j) (1977). This regulation, which was adopted in 1973, sheds no light on the legality of the admissions program that excluded Bakke in this case. [return to text]

23. [Stevens] 110 Cong. Rec. 6047 (1964) (remarks of Sen. Pastore).[return to text]