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


YES! JUSTICES BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL AND BLACKMUN: Racial classifications designed to further remedial purposes call for an intermediate rather than a strict level of scrutiny. A government practice or statute that restricted fundamental rights or contained suspect classifications would demand strict scrutiny, and could be justified only if necessary to further a compelling government purpose. But no fundamental right or suspect classification is involved in this case. Whites as a class do not meet the criteria of a suspect classification, since they have not as a class been subjected to a history of discrimination, or relegated to political powerlessness.

NO! JUSTICE POWELL: The guarantee of equal protection cannot mean one thing when applied to a white person and something else when applied to a person of another color. Racial and ethnic distinctions of any sort are inherently suspect and thus call for the most exacting judicial examination. When an individual is subjected to racial discrimination, he is entitled to a judicial determination that the burden he is asked to bear is precisely tailored to serve a compelling governmental interest. The Constitution guarantees that right to every person regardless of his race or ethnicity.

Justices Brennan, White, Marshall and Blackmun



[Page 355]The assertion of human equality is closely associated with the proposition that differences in color or creed, birth or status, are neither significant nor relevant to the way in which persons should be treated. Nonetheless, the position that such factors must be "constitutionally an irrelevance," Edwards v. California, 314 U.S. 160, 185 (1941) (Jackson, J., concurring), summed up by the shorthand phrase "[our] Constitution is color-blind," Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537, 559 (1896) (Harlan, J., dissenting), has never been adopted by this Court as the proper meaning of the Equal Protection Clause. [356] Indeed, we have expressly rejected this proposition on a number of occasions.

Our cases have always implied that an "overriding statutory purpose," McLaughlin v. Florida, 379 U.S. 184, 192 (1964), could be found that would justify racial classifications. See, e. g., ibid.; Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1, 11 (1967); Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214, 216 (1944); Hirabayashi v. United States, 320 U.S. 81, 100-101 (1943). More recently, in McDaniel v. Barresi, 402 U.S. 39 (1971), this Court unanimously reversed the Georgia Supreme Court which had held that a desegregation plan voluntarily adopted by a local school board, which assigned students on the basis of race, was per se invalid because it was not colorblind. And in North Carolina Board of Education v. Swann we held, again unanimously, that a statute mandating colorblind school-assignment plans could not stand "against the background of segregation," since such a limit on remedies would "render illusory the promise of Brown [I]." 402 U.S., at 45-46.

We conclude, therefore, that racial classifications are not per se invalid under the Fourteenth Amendment. Accordingly, we turn to the problem of articulating what our role should be in reviewing state action that expressly classifies by race.


Respondent argues that racial classifications are always suspect and, consequently, that this Court should weigh the importance of the objectives served by Davis' special admissions program to see if they are compelling. In addition, he asserts that this Court must inquire whether, in its judgment, there are alternatives to racial classifications which would suit Davis' purposes. Petitioner, on the other hand, states that our proper role is simply to accept petitioner's determination that the racial classifications used by its program are reasonably related to what it tells us are its benign [357] purposes. We reject petitioner's view, but, because our prior cases are in many respects inapposite to that before us now, we find it necessary to define with precision the meaning of that inexact term, "strict scrutiny."

Unquestionably we have held that a government practice or statute which restricts "fundamental rights" or which contains "suspect classifications" is to be subjected to "strict scrutiny" and can be justified only if it furthers a compelling government purpose and, even then, only if no less restrictive alternative is available. 30 See, e. g., San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1, 16-17 (1973); Dunn v. Blumstein, 405 U.S. 330 (1972). But no fundamental right is involved here. See San Antonio, supra, at 29-36. Nor do whites as a class have any of the "traditional indicia of suspectness: the class is not saddled with such disabilities, or subjected to such a history of purposeful unequal treatment, or relegated to such a position of political powerlessness as to command extraordinary protection from the majoritarian political process." Id., at 28; see United States v. Carolene Products Co., 304 U.S. 144, 152 n. 4 (1938). 31

Moreover, if the University's representations are credited, this is not a case where racial classifications are "irrelevant and therefore prohibited." Hirabayashi, supra, at 100. Nor has anyone suggested that the University's purposes contravene the cardinal principle that racial classifications that stigmatize -- because they are drawn on the presumption that one race is inferior to another or because they put the weight of government behind racial hatred and separatism -- are invalid without more. See Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356, 374 (1886); 32 accord, Strauder v. West Virginia, 100 U.S. 303, 308 (1880); Korematsu v. United States, supra, at 223; Oyama v. California, 332 U.S. 633, 663 (1948) (Murphy, J., concurring); Brown I, 347 U.S. 483 (1954); McLaughlin v. Florida, supra, at 191-192; Loving v. Virginia, supra, at 11-12; Reitman v. Mulkey, 387 U.S. 369, 375-376 (1967); United Jewish Organizations v. Carey, 430 U.S. 144, 165 (1977) (UJO) (opinion of WHITE, J., joined by REHNQUIST and STEVENS, JJ.); id., at 169 (opinion concurring in part).33

On the other hand, the fact that this case does not fit neatly into our prior analytic framework for race cases does not mean that it should be analyzed by applying the very loose rational-basis standard of review that is the very least that is always applied in equal protection cases. 34 "'[The] mere recitation of a benign, compensatory purpose is not an automatic shield [359] which protects against any inquiry into the actual purposes underlying a statutory scheme.'" Califano v. Webster, 430 U.S. 313, 317 (1977), quoting Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld, 420 U.S. 636, 648 (1975). Instead, a number of considerations -- developed in gender-discrimination cases but which carry even more force when applied to racial classifications -- lead us to conclude that racial classifications designed to further remedial purposes "'must serve important governmental objectives and must be substantially related to achievement of those objectives.'" Califano v. Webster, supra, at 317, quoting Craig v. Boren, 429 U.S. 190, 197 (1976). 35

[360] First, race, like, "gender-based classifications too often [has] been inexcusably utilized to stereotype and stigmatize politically powerless segments of society." Kahn v. Shevin, 416 U.S. 351, 357 (1974) (dissenting opinion). While a carefully tailored statute designed to remedy past discrimination could avoid these vices, see Califano v. Webster, supra; Schlesinger v. Ballard, 419 U.S. 498 (1975); Kahn v. Shevin, supra, we nonetheless have recognized that the line between honest and thoughtful appraisal of the effects of past discrimination and paternalistic stereotyping is not so clear and that a statute based on the latter is patently capable of stigmatizing all women with a badge of inferiority. Cf. Schlesinger v. Ballard, supra, at 508; UJO, supra, at 174, and n. 3 (opinion concurring in part); Califano v. Goldfarb, 430 U.S. 199, 223 (1977) (STEVENS, J., concurring in judgment). See also Stanton v. Stanton, 421 U.S. 7, 14-15 (1975). State programs designed ostensibly to ameliorate the effects of past racial discrimination obviously create the same hazard of stigma, since they may promote racial separatism and reinforce the views of those who believe that members of racial minorities are inherently incapable of succeeding on their own. See UJO, supra, at 172 (opinion concurring in part); ante, at 298 (opinion of POWELL, J.).

Second, race, like gender and illegitimacy, see Weber v. Aetna Casualty & Surety Co., 406 U.S. 164 (1972), is an immutable characteristic which its possessors are powerless to escape or set aside. While a classification is not per se invalid because it divides classes on the basis of an immutable characteristic, see supra, at 355-356, it is nevertheless true that such divisions are contrary to our deep belief that "legal burdens should bear some relationship to individual responsibility or [361] wrongdoing," Weber, supra, at 175; Frontiero v. Richardson, 411 U.S. 677, 686 (1973) (opinion of BRENNAN, WHITE, and MARSHALL, JJ.), and that advancement sanctioned, sponsored, or approved by the State should ideally be based on individual merit or achievement, or at the least on factors within the control of an individual. See UJO, 430 U.S., at 173 (opinion concurring in part); Kotch v. Board of River Port Pilot Comm'rs, 330 U.S. 552, 566 (1947) (Rutledge, J., dissenting).

Because this principle is so deeply rooted it might be supposed that it would be considered in the legislative process and weighed against the benefits of programs preferring individuals because of their race. But this is not necessarily so: The "natural consequence of our governing processes [may well be] that the most 'discrete and insular' of whites . . . will be called upon to bear the immediate, direct costs of benign discrimination." UJO, supra, at 174 (opinion concurring in part). Moreover, it is clear from our cases that there are limits beyond which majorities may not go when they classify on the basis of immutable characteristics. See, e. g., Weber, supra. Thus, even if the concern for individualism is weighed by the political process, that weighing cannot waive the personal rights of individuals under the Fourteenth Amendment. See Lucas v. Colorado General Assembly, 377 U.S. 713, 736 (1964).

In sum, because of the significant risk that racial classifications established for ostensibly benign purposes can be misused, causing effects not unlike those created by invidious classifications, it is inappropriate to inquire only whether there is any conceivable basis that might sustain such a classification. Instead, to justify such a classification an important and articulated purpose for its use must be shown. In addition, any statute must be stricken that stigmatizes any group or that singles out those least well represented in the political process to bear the brunt of a benign program. Thus, our review under the Fourteenth Amendment should be strict -- not [362] "'strict' in theory and fatal in fact," 36 because it is stigma that causes fatality -- but strict and searching nonetheless.

Justice Powell


[Page 287]
Petitioner does not deny that decisions based on race or ethnic origin by faculties and administrations of state universities are reviewable under the Fourteenth Amendment. See, e. g., Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada, 305 U. S. 337 (1938); Sipuel v. Board of Regents, 332 U.S. 631 (1948); Sweatt v. Painter, 339 U.S. 629 (1950); McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents, 339 U.S. 637 (1950). For his part, respondent does not argue that all racial or ethnic classifications are per se invalid. See, e. g., Hirabayashi v. United States, 320 U.S. 81 (1943); Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214 (1944); Lee v. Washington, 390 U.S. 333, 334 (1968) (Black, Harlan, and STEWART, JJ., concurring); United Jewish Organizations v. Carey, 430 U.S. 144 (1977). The parties do disagree as to the level of judicial scrutiny to be applied to the special admissions program. Petitioner argues that the court below erred in applying strict scrutiny, as this inexact term has been [288] applied in our cases. That level of review, petitioner asserts, should be reserved for classifications that disadvantage "discrete and insular minorities." See United States v. Carolene Products Co., 304 U.S. 144, 152 n. 4 (1938). Respondent, on the other hand, contends that the California court correctly rejected the notion that the degree of judicial scrutiny accorded a particular racial or ethnic classification hinges upon membership in a discrete and insular minority and duly recognized that the "rights established [by the Fourteenth Amendment] are personal rights." Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 U.S. 1, 22 (1948).

En route to this crucial battle over the scope of judicial review, 25 the parties fight a sharp preliminary action over the proper characterization of the special admissions program. Petitioner prefers to view it as establishing a "goal" of minority representation in the Medical School. Respondent, echoing the courts below, labels it a racial quota. 26

[289] This semantic distinction is beside the point: The special admissions program is undeniably a classification based on race and ethnic background. To the extent that there existed a pool of at least minimally qualified minority applicants to fill the 16 special admissions seats, white applicants could compete only for 84 seats in the entering class, rather than the 100 open to minority applicants. Whether this limitation is described as a quota or a goal, it is a line drawn on the basis of race and ethnic status. 27

The guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment extend to all persons. Its language is explicit: "No State shall . . . deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." It is settled beyond question that the "rights created by the first section of the Fourteenth Amendment are, by its terms, guaranteed to the individual. The rights established are personal rights," Shelley v. Kraemer, supra, at 22. Accord, Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada, supra, at 351; McCabe v. Atchison, T. & S. F. R. Co., 235 U.S. 151, 161-162 (1914). The guarantee of equal protection cannot mean one thing when applied to one individual and something else when [290] applied to a person of another color. If both are not accorded the same protection, then it is not equal. Nevertheless, petitioner argues that the court below erred in applying strict scrutiny to the special admissions program because white males, such as respondent, are not a "discrete and insular minority" requiring extraordinary protection from the majoritarian political process. Carolene Products Co., supra, at 152-153, n. 4. This rationale, however, has never been invoked in our decisions as a prerequisite to subjecting racial or ethnic distinctions to strict scrutiny. Nor has this Court held that discreteness and insularity constitute necessary preconditions to a holding that a particular classification is invidious. 28 See, e. g., Skinner v. Oklahoma ex rel. Williamson, 316 U.S. 535, 541 (1942); Carrington v. Rash, 380 U.S. 89, 94-97 (1965). These characteristics may be relevant in deciding whether or not to add new types of classifications to the list of "suspect" categories or whether a particular classification survives close examination. See, e. g., Massachusetts Board of Retirement v. Murgia, 427 U.S. 307, 313 (1976) (age); San Antonio Independent School Dist. v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1, 28 (1973) (wealth); Graham v. Richardson, 403 U.S. 365, 372 (1971) (aliens). Racial and ethnic classifications, however, are subject to stringent examination without regard to these additional characteristics. We declared as much in the first cases explicitly to recognize racial distinctions as suspect:

"Distinctions between citizens solely because of their ancestry are by their very nature odious to a free people [291] whose institutions are founded upon the doctrine of equality." Hirabayashi, 320 U.S., at 100.

"[All] legal restrictions which curtail the civil rights of a single racial group are immediately suspect. That is not to say that all such restrictions are unconstitutional. It is to say that courts must subject them to the most rigid scrutiny." Korematsu, 323 U.S., at 216.

The Court has never questioned the validity of those pronouncements. Racial and ethnic distinctions of any sort are inherently suspect and thus call for the most exacting judicial examination.


This perception of racial and ethnic distinctions is rooted in our Nation's constitutional and demographic history. The Court's initial view of the Fourteenth Amendment was that its "one pervading purpose" was "the freedom of the slave race, the security and firm establishment of that freedom, and the protection of the newly-made freeman and citizen from the oppressions of those who had formerly exercised dominion over him." Slaughter-House Cases, 16 Wall. 36, 71 (1873). The Equal Protection Clause, however, was "[virtually] strangled in infancy by post-civil-war judicial reactionism." 29 It was relegated to decades of relative desuetude while the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, after a short germinal period, flourished as a cornerstone in the Court's defense of property and liberty of contract. See, e. g., Mugler v. Kansas, 123 U.S. 623, 661 (1887); Allgeyer v. Louisiana, 165 U.S. 578 (1897); Lochner v. New York, 198 U.S. 45 (1905). In that cause, the Fourteenth Amendment's "one pervading purpose" was displaced. See, e. g., Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896). It was only as the era of substantive due process came to a close, see, e. g., Nebbia v. [292] New York, 291 U.S. 502 (1934); West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish, 300 U.S. 379 (1937), that the Equal Protection Clause began to attain a genuine measure of vitality, see, e. g., United States v. Carolene Products, 304 U.S. 144 (1938); Skinner v. Oklahoma ex rel. Williamson, supra.

By that time it was no longer possible to peg the guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment to the struggle for equality of one racial minority. During the dormancy of the Equal Protection Clause, the United States had become a Nation of minorities. 30 Each had to struggle 31 -- and to some extent struggles still 32 -- to overcome the prejudices not of a monolithic majority, but of a "majority" composed of various minority groups of whom it was said -- perhaps unfairly in many cases -- that a shared characteristic was a willingness to disadvantage other groups. 33 As the Nation filled with the stock of many lands, the reach of the Clause was gradually extended to all ethnic groups seeking protection from official discrimination. See Strauder v. West Virginia, 100 U.S. 303, 308 (1880) (Celtic Irishmen) (dictum); Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356 (1886) (Chinese); Truax v. Raich, 239 U.S. 33, 41 (1915) (Austrian resident aliens); Korematsu, supra (Japanese); Hernandez v. Texas, 347 U.S. 475 (1954) (Mexican-Americans). The guarantees of equal protection, said the Court in [293] Yick Wo, "are universal in their application, to all persons within the territorial jurisdiction, without regard to any differences of race, of color, or of nationality; and the equal protection of the laws is a pledge of the protection of equal laws." 118 U.S., at 369.

Although many of the Framers of the Fourteenth Amendment conceived of its primary function as bridging the vast distance between members of the Negro race and the white "majority," Slaughter-House Cases, supra, the Amendment itself was framed in universal terms, without reference to color, ethnic origin, or condition of prior servitude. As this Court recently remarked in interpreting the 1866 Civil Rights Act to extend to claims of racial discrimination against white persons, "the 39th Congress was intent upon establishing in the federal law a broader principle than would have been necessary simply to meet the particular and immediate plight of the newly freed Negro slaves." McDonald v. Santa Fe Trail Transportation Co., 427 U.S. 273, 296 (1976). And that legislation was specifically broadened in 1870 to ensure that "all persons," not merely "citizens," would enjoy equal rights under the law. See Runyon v. McCrary, 427 U.S. 160, 192-202 (1976) (WHITE, J., dissenting). Indeed, it is not unlikely that among the Framers were many who would have applauded a reading of the Equal Protection Clause that states a principle of universal application and is responsive to the racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity of the Nation. See, e. g., Cong. Globe, 39th Cong., 1st Sess., 1056 (1866) (remarks of Rep. Niblack); id., at 2891-2892 (remarks of Sen. Conness); id., 40th Cong., 2d Sess., 883 (1868) (remarks of Sen. Howe) (Fourteenth Amendment "[protects] classes from class legislation"). See also Bickel, The Original Understanding and the Segregation Decision, 69 Harv. L. Rev. 1, 60-63 (1955).

Over the past 30 years, this Court has embarked upon the crucial mission of interpreting the Equal Protection Clause with the view of assuring to all persons "the protection of [294] equal laws," Yick Wo, supra, at 369, in a Nation confronting a legacy of slavery and racial discrimination. See, e. g., Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 U.S. 1 (1948); Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954); Hills v. Gautreaux, 425 U.S. 284 (1976). Because the landmark decisions in this area arose in response to the continued exclusion of Negroes from the mainstream of American society, they could be characterized as involving discrimination by the "majority" white race against the Negro minority. But they need not be read as depending upon that characterization for their results. It suffices to say that "[over] the years, this Court has consistently repudiated '[distinctions] between citizens solely because of their ancestry' as being 'odious to a free people whose institutions are founded upon the doctrine of equality.'" Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1, 11 (1967), quoting Hirabayashi, 320 U.S., at 100.

Petitioner urges us to adopt for the first time a more restrictive view of the Equal Protection Clause and hold that discrimination against members of the white "majority" cannot be suspect if its purpose can be characterized as "benign." 34 [295] The clock of our liberties, however, cannot be turned back to 1868. Brown v. Board of Education, supra, at 492; accord, Loving v. Virginia, supra, at 9. It is far too late to argue that the guarantee of equal protection to all persons permits the recognition of special wards entitled to a degree of protection greater than that accorded others. 35 "The Fourteenth Amendment is not directed solely against discrimination due to a 'two-class theory' -- that is, based upon differences between 'white' and Negro." Hernandez, 347 U.S., at 478.

Once the artificial line of a "two-class theory" of the Fourteenth Amendment is put aside, the difficulties entailed in varying the level of judicial review according to a perceived "preferred" status of a particular racial or ethnic minority are intractable. The concepts of "majority" and "minority" necessarily reflect temporary arrangements and political judgments. As observed above, the white "majority" itself is composed of various minority groups, most of which can lay claim to a history of prior discrimination at the hands of the State and private individuals. Not all of these groups can receive preferential treatment and corresponding judicial tolerance [296] of distinctions drawn in terms of race and nationality, for then the only "majority" left would be a new minority of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. There is no principled basis for deciding which groups would merit "heightened judicial solicitude " and which would not. 36 Courts would be asked to evaluate the extent of the prejudice and consequent [297] harm suffered by various minority groups. Those whose societal injury is thought to exceed some arbitrary level of tolerability then would be entitled to preferential classifications at the expense of individuals belonging to other groups. Those classifications would be free from exacting judicial scrutiny. As these preferences began to have their desired effect, and the consequences of past discrimination were undone, new judicial rankings would be necessary. The kind of variable sociological and political analysis necessary to produce such rankings simply does not lie within the judicial competence -- even if they otherwise were politically feasible and socially desirable. 37

[298] Moreover, there are serious problems of justice connected with the idea of preference itself. First, it may not always be clear that a so-called preference is in fact benign. Courts may be asked to validate burdens imposed upon individual members of a particular group in order to advance the group's general interest. See United Jewish Organizations v. Carey, 430 U.S., at 172-173 (BRENNAN, J., concurring in part). Nothing in the Constitution supports the notion that individuals may be asked to suffer otherwise impermissible burdens in order to enhance the societal standing of their ethnic groups. Second, preferential programs may only reinforce common stereotypes holding that certain groups are unable to achieve success without special protection based on a factor having no relationship to individual worth. See DeFunis v. Odegaard, 416 U.S. 312, 343 (1974) (Douglas, J., dissenting). Third, there is a measure of inequity in forcing innocent persons in respondent's position to bear the burdens of redressing grievances not of their making.

By hitching the meaning of the Equal Protection Clause to these transitory considerations, we would be holding, as a constitutional principle, that judicial scrutiny of classifications touching on racial and ethnic background may vary with the ebb and flow of political forces. Disparate constitutional tolerance of such classifications well may serve to exacerbate [299] racial and ethnic antagonisms rather than alleviate them. United Jewish Organizations, supra, at 173-174 (BRENNAN, J., concurring in part). Also, the mutability of a constitutional principle, based upon shifting political and social judgments, undermines the chances for consistent application of the Constitution from one generation to the next, a critical feature of its coherent interpretation. Pollock v. Farmers' Loan & Trust Co., 157 U.S. 429, 650-651 (1895) (White, J., dissenting). In expounding the Constitution, the Court's role is to discern "principles sufficiently absolute to give them roots throughout the community and continuity over significant periods of time, and to lift them above the level of the pragmatic political judgments of a particular time and place." A. Cox, The Role of the Supreme Court in American Government 114 (1976).

If it is the individual who is entitled to judicial protection against classifications based upon his racial or ethnic background because such distinctions impinge upon personal rights, rather than the individual only because of his membership in a particular group, then constitutional standards may be applied consistently. Political judgments regarding the necessity for the particular classification may be weighed in the constitutional balance, Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214 (1944), but the standard of justification will remain constant. This is as it should be, since those political judgments are the product of rough compromise struck by contending groups within the democratic process. 38 When they touch upon an individual's race or ethnic background, he is entitled to a judicial determination that the burden he is asked to bear on that basis is precisely tailored to serve a compelling governmental interest. The Constitution guarantees that right to every person regardless of his background. Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 U.S., at 22; Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada, 305 U.S., at 351. [300]


Petitioner contends that on several occasions this Court has approved preferential classifications without applying the most exacting scrutiny. Most of the cases upon which petitioner relies are drawn from three areas: school desegregation, employment discrimination, and sex discrimination. Each of the cases cited presented a situation materially different from the facts of this case.

The school desegregation cases are inapposite. Each involved remedies for clearly determined constitutional violations. E. g., Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, 402 U.S. 1 (1971); McDaniel v. Barresi, 402 U.S. 39 (1971); Green v. County School Board, 391 U.S. 430 (1968). Racial classifications thus were designed as remedies for the vindication of constitutional entitlement. 39 Moreover, the scope of the remedies was not permitted to exceed the extent of the [301] violations. E. g., Dayton Board of Education v. Brinkman, 433 U.S. 406 (1977); Milliken v. Bradley, 418 U.S. 717 (1974); see Pasadena City Board of Education v. Spangler, 427 U.S. 424 (1976). See also Austin Independent School Dist. v. United States, 429 U.S. 990, 991-995 (1976) (POWELL, J., concurring). Here, there was no judicial determination of constitutional violation as a predicate for the formulation of a remedial classification.

The employment discrimination cases also do not advance petitioner's cause. For example, in Franks v. Bowman Transportation Co., 424 U.S. 747 (1976), we approved a retroactive award of seniority to a class of Negro truckdrivers who had been the victims of discrimination -- not just by society at large, but by the respondent in that case. While this relief imposed some burdens on other employees, it was held necessary "'to make [the victims] whole for injuries suffered on account of unlawful employment discrimination.'" Id., at 763, quoting Albermarle Paper Co. v. Moody, 422 U.S. 405, 418 (1975). The Courts of Appeals have fashioned various types of racial preferences as remedies for constitutional or statutory violations resulting in identified, race-based injuries to individuals held entitled to the preference. E. g., Bridgeport Guardians, Inc. v. Bridgeport Civil Service Commission, 482 F.2d 1333 (CA2 1973); Carter v. Gallagher, 452 F.2d 315 (CA8 1972), modified on rehearing en banc, id., at 327. Such preferences also have been upheld where a legislative or administrative body charged with the responsibility made determinations of past discrimination by the industries affected, and fashioned remedies deemed appropriate to rectify the discrimination. E. g., Contractors Association of Eastern Pennsylvania v. Secretary of Labor, 442 F.2d 159 (CA3), cert. denied, 404 U.S. 854 (1971); 40 Associated General [302] Contractors of Massachusetts, Inc. v. Altshuler, 490 F.2d 9 (CA1 1973), cert. denied, 416 U.S. 957 (1974); cf. Katzenbach v. Morgan, 384 U.S. 641 (1966). But we have never approved preferential classifications in the absence of proved constitutional or statutory violations.41

Nor is petitioner's view as to the applicable standard supported by the fact that gender-based classifications are not subjected to this level of scrutiny. E. g., Califano v. Webster, 430 U.S. 313, 316-317 (1977); Craig v. Boren, 429 U.S. 190, 211 n. (1976) (POWELL, J., concurring). Gender-based distinctions are less likely to create the analytical and practical [303] problems present in preferential programs premised on racial or ethnic criteria. With respect to gender there are only two possible classifications. The incidence of the burdens imposed by preferential classifications is clear. There are no rival groups which can claim that they, too, are entitled to preferential treatment. Classwide questions as to the group suffering previous injury and groups which fairly can be burdened are relatively manageable for reviewing courts. See, e. g., Califano v. Goldfarb, 430 U.S. 199, 212-217 (1977); Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld, 420 U.S. 636, 645 (1975). The resolution of these same questions in the context of racial and ethnic preferences presents far more complex and intractable problems than gender-based classifications. More importantly, the perception of racial classifications as inherently odious stems from a lengthy and tragic history that gender-based classifications do not share. In sum, the Court has never viewed such classification as inherently suspect or as comparable to racial or ethnic classifications for the purpose of equal protection analysis.

Petitioner also cites Lau v. Nichols, 414 U.S. 563 (1974), in support of the proposition that discrimination favoring racial or ethnic minorities has received judicial approval without the exacting inquiry ordinarily accorded "suspect" classifications. In Lau, we held that the failure of the San Francisco school system to provide remedial English instruction for some 1,800 students of oriental ancestry who spoke no English amounted to a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U. S. C. 2000d, and the regulations promulgated thereunder. Those regulations required remedial instruction where inability to understand English excluded children of foreign ancestry from participation in educational programs. 414 U.S., at 568. Because we found that the students in Lau were denied "a meaningful opportunity to participate in the educational program," ibid., we remanded for the fashioning of a remedial order.

[304] Lau provides little support for petitioner's argument. The decision rested solely on the statute, which had been construed by the responsible administrative agency to reach educational practices "which have the effect of subjecting individuals to discrimination," ibid. We stated: "Under these state-imposed standards there is no equality of treatment merely by providing students with the same facilities, textbooks, teachers, and curriculum; for students who do not understand English are effectively foreclosed from any meaningful education." Id., at 566. Moreover, the "preference" approved did not result in the denial of the relevant benefit -- "meaningful opportunity to participate in the educational program" -- to anyone else. No other student was deprived by that preference of the ability to participate in San Francisco's school system, and the applicable regulations required similar assistance for all students who suffered similar linguistic deficiencies. Id., at 570-571 (STEWART, J., concurring in result).

In a similar vein, 42 petitioner contends that our recent decision in United Jewish Organizations v. Carey, 430 U.S. 144 (1977), indicates a willingness to approve racial classifications designed to benefit certain minorities, without denominating the classifications as "suspect." The State of New York had redrawn its reapportionment plan to meet objections of the Department of Justice under 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 42 U. S. C. 1973c (1970 ed., Supp. V). Specifically, voting districts were redrawn to enhance the electoral power [305] of certain "nonwhite" voters found to have been the victims of unlawful "dilution" under the original reapportionment plan. United Jewish Organizations, like Lau, properly is viewed as a case in which the remedy for an administrative finding of discrimination encompassed measures to improve the previously disadvantaged group's ability to participate, without excluding individuals belonging to any other group from enjoyment of the relevant opportunity -- meaningful participation in the electoral process.

In this case, unlike Lau and United Jewish Organizations, there has been no determination by the legislature or a responsible administrative agency that the University engaged in a discriminatory practice requiring remedial efforts. Moreover, the operation of petitioner's special admissions program is quite different from the remedial measures approved in those cases. It prefers the designated minority groups at the expense of other individuals who are totally foreclosed from competition for the 16 special admissions seats in every Medical School class. Because of that foreclosure, some individuals are excluded from enjoyment of a state-provided benefit -- admission to the Medical School -- they otherwise would receive. When a classification denies an individual opportunities or benefits enjoyed by others solely because of his race or ethnic background, it must be regarded as suspect. E. g., McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents, 339 U.S., at 641-642.

Justice Brennan Footnotes:

30.[Brennan] We do not pause to debate whether our cases establish a "two-tier" analysis, a "sliding scale" analysis, or something else altogether. It is enough for present purposes that strict scrutiny is applied at least in some cases. [return to text]

31. [Brennan]Of course, the fact that whites constitute a political majority in our Nation does not necessarily mean that active judicial scrutiny of racial classifications that disadvantage whites is inappropriate. Cf. Castaneda v. Partida, 430 U.S. 482, 499-500 (1977); id., at 501 (MARSHALL, J., concurring). [return to text]

32.[Brennan] "[The] conclusion cannot be resisted, that no reason for [the refusal to issue permits to Chinese] exists except hostility to the race and nationality to which the petitioners belong . . . . The discrimination is, therefore, illegal . . . ." [return to text]

33.[Brennan] Indeed, even in Plessy v. Ferguson the Court recognized that a classification by race that presumed one race to be inferior to another would have to be condemned. See 163 U.S., at 544-551. [return to text]

34.[Brennan] Paradoxically, petitioner's argument is supported by the cases generally thought to establish the "strict scrutiny" standard in race cases, Hirabayashi v. United States, 320 U.S. 81 (1943), and Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214 (1944). In Hirabayashi, for example, the Court, responding to a claim that a racial classification was rational, sustained a racial classification solely on the basis of a conclusion in the double negative that it could not say that facts which might have been available "could afford no ground for differentiating citizens of Japanese ancestry from other groups in the United States." Hirabayashi 320 U.S., at 101. A similar mode of analysis was followed in Korematsu, see 323 U.S., at 224, even though the Court stated there that racial classifications were "immediately suspect" and should be subject to "the most rigid scrutiny." Id., at 216. [return to text]

35.[Brennan] We disagree with our Brother POWELL's suggestion, ante, at 303, that the presence of "rival groups which can claim that they, too, are entitled to preferential treatment" distinguishes the gender cases or is relevant to the question of scope of judicial review of race classifications. We are not asked to determine whether groups other than those favored by the Davis program should similarly be favored. All we are asked to do is to pronounce the constitutionality of what Davis has done.

But, were we asked to decide whether any given rival group -- German-Americans for example -- must constitutionally be accorded preferential treatment, we do have a "principled basis," ante, at 296, for deciding this question, one that is well established in our cases: The Davis program expressly sets out four classes which receive preferred status. Ante, at 274. The program clearly distinguishes whites, but one cannot reason from this a conclusion that German-Americans, as a national group, are singled out for invidious treatment. And even if the Davis program had a differential impact on German-Americans, they would have no constitutional claim unless they could prove that Davis intended invidiously to discriminate against German-Americans. See Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan Housing Dev. Corp., 429 U.S. 252, 264-265 (1977); Washington v. Davis, 426 U.S. 229, 238-241 (1976). If this could not be shown, then "the principle that calls for the closest scrutiny of distinctions in laws denying fundamental rights . . . is inapplicable," Katzenbach v. Morgan, 384 U.S. 641, 657 (1966), and the only question is whether it was rational for Davis to conclude that the groups it preferred had a greater claim to compensation than the groups it excluded. See ibid.; San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1, 38-39 (1973) (applying Katzenbach test to state action intended to remove discrimination in educational opportunity). Thus, claims of rival groups, although they may create thorny political problems, create relatively simple problems for the courts. [return to text]

36.[Brennan] Gunther, The Supreme Court, 1971 Term -- Foreword: In Search of Evolving Doctrine on a Changing Court: A Model for a Newer Equal Protection, 86 Harv. L. Rev. 1, 8 (1972). [return to text]

Justice Powell Footnotes:

25.[Powell] That issue has generated a considerable amount of scholarly controversy. See, e. g., Ely, The Constitutionality of Reverse Racial Discrimination, 41 U. Chi. L. Rev. 723 (1974); Greenawalt, Judicial Scrutiny of "Benign" Racial Preference in Law School Admissions, 75 Colum. L. Rev. 559 (1975); Kaplan, Equal Justice in an Unequal World: Equality for the Negro, 61 Nw. U. L. Rev. 363 (1966); Karst & Horowitz, Affirmative Action and Equal Protection, 60 Va. L. Rev. 955 (1974); O'Neil, Racial Preference and Higher Education: The Larger Context, 60 Va. L. Rev. 925 (1974); Posner, The DeFunis Case and the Constitutionality of Preferential Treatment of Racial Minorities, 1974 Sup. Ct. Rev. 1; Redish, Preferential Law School Admissions and the Equal Protection Clause: An Analysis of the Competing Arguments, 22 UCLA L. Rev. 343 (1974); Sandalow, Racial Preferences in Higher Education: Political Responsibility and the Judicial Role, 42 U. Chi. L. Rev. 653 (1975); Sedler, Racial Preference, Reality and the Constitution: Bakke v. Regents of the University of California, 17 Santa Clara L. Rev. 329 (1977); Seeburger, A Heuristic Argument Against Preferential Admissions, 39 U. Pitt. L. Rev. 285 (1977). [return to text]

26.[Powell] Petitioner defines "quota" as a requirement which must be met but can never be exceeded, regardless of the quality of the minority applicants. Petitioner declares that there is no "floor" under the total number of minority students admitted; completely unqualified students will not be admitted simply to meet a "quota." Neither is there a "ceiling," since an unlimited number could be admitted through the general admissions process. On this basis the special admissions program does not meet petitioner's definition of a quota. [return to text]

The court below found -- and petitioner does not deny -- that white applicants could not compete for the 16 places reserved solely for the special admissions program. 18 Cal. 3d, at 44, 553 P. 2d, at 1159. Both courts below characterized this as a "quota" system.

27.[Powell] Moreover, the University's special admissions program involves a purposeful, acknowledged use of racial criteria. This is not a situation in which the classification on its face is racially neutral, but has a disproportionate racial impact. In that situation, plaintiff must establish an intent to discriminate. Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan Housing Dev. Corp., 429 U.S. 252, 264-265 (1977); Washington v. Davis, 426 U.S. 229, 242 (1976); see Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356 (1886). [return to text]

28.[Powell] After Carolene Products, the first specific reference in our decisions to the elements of "discreteness and insularity" appears in Minersville School District v. Gobitis, 310 U.S. 586, 606 (1940) (Stone, J., dissenting). The next does not appear until 1970. Oregon v. Mitchell, 400 U.S. 112, 295 n. 14 (STEWART, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part). These elements have been relied upon in recognizing a suspect class in only one group of cases, those involving aliens. E. g., Graham v. Richardson, 403 U.S. 365, 372 (1971). [return to text]

29.[Powell] Tussman & tenBroek, The Equal Protection of the Laws, 37 Calif. L. Rev. 341, 381 (1949). [return to text]

30.[Powell] M. Jones, American Immigration 177-246 (1960). [return to text]

31.[Powell] J. Higham, Strangers in the Land (1955); G. Abbott, The Immigrant and the Community (1917); P. Roberts, The New Immigration 66-73, 86-91, 248-261 (1912). See also E. Fenton, Immigrants and Unions: A Case Study 561-562 (1975). [return to text]

32.[Powell] "Members of various religious and ethnic groups, primarily but not exclusively of Eastern, Middle, and Southern European ancestry, such as Jews, Catholics, Italians, Greeks, and Slavic groups, continue to be excluded from executive, middle-management, and other job levels because of discrimination based upon their religion and/or national origin." 41 CFR 60-50.1 (b) (1977). [return to text]

33.[Powell] E. g., P. Roberts, supra, n. 31, at 75; G. Abbott, supra n. 31, at 270-271. See generally n. 31, supra. [return to text]

34.[Powell] In the view of Mr. Justice BRENNAN, Mr. Justice WHITE, Mr. Justice MARSHALL, and Mr. Justice BLACKMUN, the pliable notion of "stigma" is the crucial element in analyzing racial classifications. See, e. g., post, at 361, 362. The Equal Protection Clause is not framed in terms of "stigma." Certainly the word has no clearly defined constitutional meaning. It reflects a subjective judgment that is standardless. All state-imposed classifications that rearrange burdens and benefits on the basis of race are likely to be viewed with deep resentment by the individuals burdened. The denial to innocent persons of equal rights and opportunities may outrage those so deprived and therefore may be perceived as invidious. These individuals are likely to find little comfort in the notion that the deprivation they are asked to endure is merely the price of membership in the dominant majority and that its imposition is inspired by the supposedly benign purpose of aiding others. One should not lightly dismiss the inherent unfairness of, and the perception of mistreatment that accompanies, a system of allocating benefits and privileges on the basis of skin color and ethnic origin. Moreover, Mr. Justice BRENNAN, Mr. Justice WHITE, Mr. Justice MARSHALL, and Mr. Justice BLACKMUN offer no principle for deciding whether preferential classifications reflect a benign remedial purpose or a malevolent stigmatic classification, since they are willing in this case to accept mere post hoc declarations by an isolated state entity -- a medical school faculty -- unadorned by particularized findings of past discrimination, to establish such a remedial purpose. [return to text]

35.[Powell] Professor Bickel noted the self-contradiction of that view: "The lesson of the great decisions of the Supreme Court and the lesson of contemporary history have been the same for at least a generation: discrimination on the basis of race is illegal, immoral, unconstitutional, inherently wrong, and destructive of democratic society. Now this is to be unlearned and we are told that this is not a matter of fundamental principle but only a matter of whose ox is gored. Those for whom racial equality was demanded are to be more equal than others. Having found support in the Constitution for equality, they now claim support for inequality under the same Constitution." A. Bickel, The Morality of Consent 133 (1975). [return to text]

36. [Powell] As I am in agreement with the view that race may be taken into account as a factor in an admissions program, I agree with my Brothers BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, and BLACKMUN that the portion of the judgment that would proscribe all consideration of race must be reversed. See Part V, infra. But I disagree with much that is said in their opinion.

They would require as a justification for a program such as petitioner's, only two findings: (i) that there has been some form of discrimination against the preferred minority groups by "society at large," post, at 369 (it being conceded that petitioner had no history of discrimination), and (ii) that "there is reason to believe" that the disparate impact sought to be rectified by the program is the "product" of such discrimination:

"If it was reasonable to conclude -- as we hold that it was -- that the failure of minorities to qualify for admission at Davis under regular procedures was due principally to the effects of past discrimination, then there is a reasonable likelihood that, but for pervasive racial discrimination, respondent would have failed to qualify for admission even in the absence of Davis' special admissions program." Post, at 365-366.

The breadth of this hypothesis is unprecedented in our constitutional system. The first step is easily taken. No one denies the regrettable fact that there has been societal discrimination in this country against various racial and ethnic groups. The second step, however, involves a speculative leap: but for this discrimination by society at large, Bakke "would have failed to qualify for admission" because Negro applicants -- nothing is said about Asians, cf., e. g., post, at 374 n. 57 -- would have made better scores. Not one word in the record supports this conclusion, and the authors of the opinion offer no standard for courts to use in applying such a presumption of causation to other racial or ethnic classifications. This failure is a grave one, since if it may be concluded on this record that each of the minority groups preferred by the petitioner's special program is entitled to the benefit of the presumption, it would seem difficult to determine that any of the dozens of minority groups that have suffered "societal discrimination" cannot also claim it, in any area of social intercourse. See Part IV-B, infra. [return to text]

37.[Powell] Mr. Justice Douglas has noted the problems associated with such inquiries:

"The reservation of a proportion of the law school class for members of selected minority groups is fraught with . . . dangers, for one must immediately determine which groups are to receive such favored treatment and which are to be excluded, the proportions of the class that are to be allocated to each, and even the criteria by which to determine whether an individual is a member of a favored group. [Cf. Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537, 549, 552 (1896).]

"There is no assurance that a common agreement can be reached, and first the schools, and then the courts, will be buffeted with the competing claims. The University of Washington included Filipinos, but excluded Chinese and Japanese; another school may limit its program to blacks, or to blacks and Chicanos. Once the Court sanctioned racial preferences such as these, it could not then wash its hands of the matter, leaving it entirely in the discretion of the school, for then we would have effectively overruled Sweatt v. Painter, 339 U.S. 629, and allowed imposition of a 'zero' allocation.

"But what standard is the Court to apply when a rejected applicant of Japanese ancestry brings suit to require the University of Washington to extend the same privileges to his group? The Committee might conclude that the population of Washington is now 2% Japanese, and that Japanese also constitute 2% of the Bar, but that had they not been handicapped by a history of discrimination, Japanese would now constitute 5% of the Bar, or 20%. Or, alternatively, the Court could attempt to assess how grievously each group has suffered from discrimination, and allocate proportions accordingly; if that were the standard the current University of Washington policy would almost surely fall, for there is no Western State which can claim that it has always treated Japanese and Chinese in a fair and evenhanded manner. See, e. g., Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356; Terrace v. Thompson, 263 U.S. 197; Oyama v. California, 332 U.S. 633. This Court has not sustained a racial classification since the wartime cases of Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214, and Hirabayashi v. United States, 320 U.S. 81, involving curfews and relocations imposed upon Japanese-Americans. "Nor obviously will the problem be solved if next year the Law School included only Japanese and Chinese, for then Norwegians and Swedes, Poles and Italians, Puerto Ricans and Hungarians, and all other groups which form this diverse Nation would have just complaints." DeFunis v. Odegaard, 416 U.S. 312, 337-340 (1974) (dissenting opinion) (footnotes omitted). [return to text]

38.[Powell] R. Dahl, A Preface to Democratic Theory (1956); Posner, supra, n. 25, at 27. [return to text]

39.[Powell] Petitioner cites three lower court decisions allegedly deviating from this general rule in school desegregation cases: Offermann v. Nitkowski, 378 F.2d 22 (CA2 1967); Wanner v. County School Board, 357 F.2d 452 (CA4 1966); Springfield School Committee v. Barksdale, 348 F.2d 261 (CA1 1965). Of these, Wanner involved a school system held to have been de jure segregated and enjoined from maintaining segregation; racial districting was deemed necessary. 357 F.2d, at 454. Cf. United Jewish Organizations v. Carey, 430 U.S. 144 (1977). In Barksdale and Offermann, courts did approve voluntary districting designed to eliminate discriminatory attendance patterns. In neither, however, was there any showing that the school board planned extensive pupil transportation that might threaten liberty or privacy interests. See Keyes v. School District No. 1, 413 U.S. 189, 240-250 (1973) (POWELL, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part). Nor were white students deprived of an equal opportunity for education.

Respondent's position is wholly dissimilar to that of a pupil bused from his neighborhood school to a comparable school in another neighborhood in compliance with a desegregation decree. Petitioner did not arrange for respondent to attend a different medical school in order to desegregate Davis Medical School; instead, it denied him admission and may have deprived him altogether of a medical education. [return to text]

40.[Powell] Every decision upholding the requirement of preferential hiring under the authority of Exec. Order No. 11246, 3 CFR 339 (1964-1965 Comp.), has emphasized the existence of previous discrimination as a predicate for the imposition of a preferential remedy. Contractors Association of Eastern Pennsylvania; Southern Illinois Builders Assn. v. Ogilvie, 471 F.2d 680 (CA7 1972); Joyce v. McCrane, 320 F.Supp. 1284 (NJ 1970); Weiner v. Cuyahoga Community College District, 19 Ohio St. 2d 35, 249 N. E. 2d 907, cert. denied, 396 U.S. 1004 (1970). See also Rosetti Contracting Co. v. Brennan, 508 F.2d 1039, 1041 (CA7 1975); Associated General Contractors of Massachusetts, Inc. v. Altshuler, 490 F.2d 9 (CA1 1973), cert. denied, 416 U.S. 957 (1974); Northeast Constr. Co. v. Romney, 157 U. S. App. D. C. 381, 383, 390, 485 F.2d 752, 754, 761 (1973). [return to text]

41.[Powell] This case does not call into question congressionally authorized administrative actions, such as consent decrees under Title VII or approval of reapportionment plans under 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 42 U. S. C. 1973c (1970 ed., Supp. V). In such cases, there has been detailed legislative consideration of the various indicia of previous constitutional or statutory violations, e. g., South Carolina v. Katzenbach, 383 U.S. 301, 308-310 (1966) ( 5), and particular administrative bodies have been charged with monitoring various activities in order to detect such violations and formulate appropriate remedies. See Hampton v. Mow Sun Wong, 426 U.S. 88, 103 (1976). Furthermore, we are not here presented with an occasion to review legislation by Congress pursuant to its powers under 2 of the Thirteenth Amendment and 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment to remedy the effects of prior discrimination. Katzenbach v. Morgan, 384 U.S. 641 (1966); Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co., 392 U.S. 409 (1968). We have previously recognized the special competence of Congress to make findings with respect to the effects of identified past discrimination and its discretionary authority to take appropriate remedial measures. [return to text]

42.[Powell] Petitioner also cites our decision in Morton v. Mancari, 417 U.S. 535 (1974), for the proposition that the State may prefer members of traditionally disadvantaged groups. In Mancari, we approved a hiring preference for qualified Indians in the Bureau of Indian Affairs of the Department of the Interior (BIA). We observed in that case, however, that the legal status of the BIA is sui generis. Id., at 554. Indeed, we found that the preference was not racial at all, but "an employment criterion reasonably designed to further the cause of Indian self-government and to make the BIA more responsive to . . . groups. . . whose lives and activities are governed by the BIA in a unique fashion." Ibid. [return to text]