In the Bakke Case, the Supreme Court Did Not Sanction Affirmative Action

Article excerpt

In his Aug. 20 commentary, "Beyond affirmative action's spotlight," Jeff Jacoby misstates the Supreme Court ruling in Regents, University of California vs. Bakke (1978).

In that decision, the court did not, as Mr. Jacoby says, sanction a medical school admissions system that, for the purpose of enhancing diversity, would permit applicants with preferential racial standing to have lower academic credentials than others not given preferred status. This incorrect interpretation undoubtedly results from a statement made by Justice Lewis Powell.

Speaking only for himself, Justice Powell opined that it was arguable that race might be used as a "plus factor" - like geography, special talents or alumni relationship - in deciding among which academically qualified candidates to admit. Justice Powell did not mean that race should serve as a substitute for academic merit.

No other justice endorsed Justice Powell's position. The court was deeply split. Four of its members held that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited any discrimination on the basis of race. Two of that group, Justices William Rehnquist and John Paul Stevens, are still on the court. …