Allan P. Bakke, an engineer and former United States Marine Corps officer, sought admission to medical school, but was rejected for admission by several, in part because, in his early thirties, he was considered too old. After twice being rejected by the University of California, Davis, he brought suit in state court. The California Supreme Court struck down the program as violative of the rights of white applicants and ordered Bakke admitted. The U.S. Supreme Court accepted the case amid wide public attention.
The case fractured the court; the nine justices issued a total of six opinions. The judgment of the court was written by Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr.; two different blocs of four justices joined various parts of Powell’s opinion. Finding diversity in the classroom to be a compelling state interest, Powell opined that affirmative action in general was allowed under the Constitution and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Nevertheless, UC Davis’s program went too far for a majority of justices, and it was struck down and Bakke admitted. The practical effect of Bakke was that most affirmative action programs continued without change. Questions about whether the Bakke case was merely a plurality opinion or binding precedent were answered in 2003 when the court upheld Powell’s position in a majority opinion in Grutter v. Bollinger.