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

Mr. Beat is a social studies teacher who specializes in making history and geography more engaging

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In episode 45 of Supreme Court Briefs, a man claims to be reverse discriminated against when he applies for UC Davis Medical School. Does affirmative action go against the Constitution? #supremecourtbriefs #apgov #affirmativeaction

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Omar Bukhari

Allan Bakke , a 33-year old man of European origin, wants to be a doctor, and applies to various medical schools. Bakke was an accomplished NASA engineer and Marine Corps veteran who served in Vietnam. He had always done well in school and scored well on the Medical College Admissions Test, or MCAT. Despite all this, all 12 medical schools he applied to rejected him.

One of those schools that rejected his admission was the University of California at Davis. Bakke applied there in 1973, and the university committee gave him 468 points out of 500 on their rating scale. A 470 automatically got you in, by the way. Dr. Theodore West, who interviewed Bakke, said he was “a well-qualified candidate for admission whose main hardship is the unavoidable fact that he is now 33.” Dr. West recommended him.

Yeah, despite that, Bakke was rejected. He complained to Dr. George Lowrey, the chairman of the admissions committee at the medical school. Lowrey directed him to Assistant Dean Peter Storandt, who probably made the mistake of telling Bakke essentially “yeah, buddy, you were close. You should apply again, and if you don’t get in after the second time, maybe consider suing the college.” Yeah later Storandt likely was fired due to that.

So Bakke applied again. And UC Davis rejected him again. In addition, at the time Bakke was rejected, the school had a special admission program, which was basically an affirmative action quota system. Affirmative action, aka positive discrimination, means favoring folks belonging to groups previously discriminated against. And of course the United States had a long history of discriminating against ethnic minorities. The UC Davis med school automatically held 16 spots for each new class of 100 for “qualified” minorities. This meant that several students with considerably lower academic scores than Bakke were admitted due to being a minority.

On June 20, 1974, Bakke sued the Regents of the University of California, which was the group that supervised UC Davis. It went through the Superior Court of California in Yolo County. Bakke argued that the special admission program for minorities at UC Davis went against the Civil Rights Act. Specifically, Title 6, which said there should not be discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in any program or activity that gets money from the federal government. UC Davis’s legal team argued that Bakke wouldn’t have been admitted to the medical school even if the special admission program for minorities didn’t exist.

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