MR. JUSTICE STEVENS, with whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE, MR. JUSTICE STEWART, and MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST join, concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part.

Regents v. Bakke

It is always important at the outset to focus precisely on the controversy before the Court. 1 It is particularly important to do so in this case because correct identification of the issues will determine whether it is necessary or appropriate to express any opinion about the legal status of any admissions program other than petitioner's.


This is not a class action. The controversy is between two specific litigants. Allan Bakke challenged petitioner's special admissions program, claiming that it denied him a place in medical school because of his race in violation of the Federal and California Constitutions and of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U. S. C. 2000d et seq. The California Supreme Court upheld his challenge and ordered him admitted. If the state court was correct in its view that the University's special program was illegal, and that Bakke was therefore unlawfully excluded from the Medical School because of his race, we should affirm its judgment, regardless of our views about the legality of admissions programs that are not now before the Court.

The judgment as originally entered by the trial court contained four separate paragraphs, two of which are of critical importance. 2 Paragraph 3 declared that the University's special admissions program violated the Fourteenth Amendment, the State Constitution, and Title VI. The trial court did not order the University to admit Bakke because it concluded that Bakke had not shown that he would have been admitted if there had been no special program. Instead, in paragraph 2 of its judgment it ordered the University to consider Bakke's application for admission without regard to his race or the race of any other applicant. The order did not include any broad prohibition against any use of race in the admissions process; its terms were clearly limited to the University's consideration of Bakke's application. 3 Because the University has since been ordered to admit Bakke, paragraph 2 of the trial court's order no longer has any significance.

The California Supreme Court, in a holding that is not challenged, ruled that the trial court incorrectly placed the burden on Bakke of showing that he would have been admitted in the absence of discrimination. The University then conceded "that it [could] not meet the burden of proving that the special admissions program did not result in Mr. Bakke's failure to be admitted." 4 Accordingly, the California Supreme Court directed the trial court to enter judgment ordering Bakke's admission. 5 Since that order superseded paragraph 2 of the trial court's judgment, there is no outstanding injunction forbidding any consideration of racial criteria in processing applications.

It is therefore perfectly clear that the question whether race can ever be used as a factor in an admissions decision is not an issue in this case, and that discussion of that issue is inappropriate. 6


Both petitioner and respondent have asked us to determine the legality of the University's special admissions program by reference to the Constitution. Our settled practice, however, is to avoid the decision of a constitutional issue if a case can be fairly decided on a statutory ground. "If there is one doctrine more deeply rooted than any other in the process of constitutional adjudication, it is that we ought not to pass on questions of constitutionality . . . unless such adjudication is unavoidable." Spector Motor Co. v. McLaughlin, 323 U.S. 101, 105. 7 The more important the issue, the more force there is to this doctrine. 8 In this case, we are presented with a constitutional question of undoubted and unusual importance. Since, however, a dispositive statutory claim was raised at the very inception of this case, and squarely decided in the portion of the trial court judgment affirmed by the California Supreme Court, it is our plain duty to confront it. Only if petitioner should prevail on the statutory issue would it be necessary to decide whether the University's admissions program violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.


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 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 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 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.

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

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 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

Belatedly, however, petitioner argues that Title VI cannot be enforced by a private litigant. The claim is unpersuasive in the context of this case. Bakke requested injunctive and declaratory relief under Title VI; petitioner itself then joined issue on the question of the legality of its program under Title VI by asking for a declaratory judgment that it was in compliance with the statute. 24 Its view during state-court litigation was that a private cause of action does exist under Title VI. Because petitioner questions the availability of a private cause of action for the first time in this Court, the question is not properly before us. See McGoldrick v. Compagnie Generale Transatlantique, 309 U.S. 430, 434, Even if it were, petitioner's original assumption is in accord with the federal courts' consistent interpretation of the Act. To date, the courts, including this Court, have unanimously concluded or assumed that a private action may be maintained under Title VI. 25 The United States has taken the same position; in its amicus curiae brief directed to this specific issue, it concluded that such a remedy is clearly available, 26 and Congress has repeatedly enacted legislation predicated on the assumption that Title VI may be enforced in a private action. 27 The conclusion that an individual may maintain a private cause of action is amply supported in the legislative history of Title VI itself. 28 In short, a fair consideration of petitioner's tardy attack on the propriety of Bakke's suit under Title VI requires that it be rejected.

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.

Accordingly, I concur in the Court's judgment insofar as it affirms the judgment of the Supreme Court of California. To the extent that it purports to do anything else, I respectfully dissent.