Bakke decision, formally Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, ruling in which, on June 28, 1978, the U.S. Supreme Court declared affirmative action constitutional but invalidated the use of racial quotas. The medical school at the University of California, Davis, as part of the university’s affirmative action program, had reserved 16 percent of its admission places for minority applicants.
Allan Bakke, a white California man who had twice unsuccessfully applied for admission to the medical school, filed suit against the university. Citing evidence that his grades and test scores surpassed those of many minority students who had been accepted for admission, Bakke charged that he had suffered unfair “reverse discrimination” on the basis of race, which he argued was contrary to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment.
The Supreme Court, in a highly fractured ruling (six separate opinions were issued), agreed that the university’s use of strict racial quotas was unconstitutional and ordered that the medical school admit Bakke, but it also contended that race could be used as one criterion in the admissions decisions of institutions of higher education. Although the ruling legalized the use of affirmative action, in subsequent decisions during the next several decades the court limited the scope of such programs, and several U.S. states prohibited affirmative action programs based on race.