Justice Powell began by stating that “[t]he guarantee of equal protection cannot mean one thing when applied to one individual and something else when applied to a person of another color. If both are not accorded the same protection, then it is not equal.” Bakke
, 438 U.S.,at 289—290. In Justice Powell’s view, when governmental decisions “touch upon an individual’s race or ethnic background, he is entitled to a judicial determination that the burden he is asked to bear on that basis is precisely tailored to serve a compelling governmental interest.” Id.
, at 299. Under this exacting standard, only one of the interests asserted by the university survived Justice Powell’s scrutiny.
First, Justice Powell rejected an interest in “ ‘reducing the historic deficit of traditionally disfavored minorities in medical schools and in the medical profession’ ” as an unlawful interest in racial balancing. Id.
, at 306—307. Second, Justice Powell rejected an interest in remedying societal discrimination because such measures would risk placing unnecessary burdens on innocent third parties
“who bear no responsibility for whatever harm the beneficiaries of the special admissions program are thought to have suffered.” Id.
, at 310. Third, Justice Powell rejected an interest in “increasing the number of physicians who will practice in communities currently underserved,” concluding that even if such an interest could be compelling in some circumstances the program under review was not “geared to promote that goal.” Id.
, at 306, 310.
Justice Powell approved the university’s use of race to further only one interest: “the attainment of a diverse student body.” Id.
, at 311. With the important proviso that “constitutional limitations protecting individual rights may not be disregarded,” Justice Powell grounded his analysis in the academic freedom that “long has been viewed as a special concern of the First Amendment.” Id., at 312, 314. Justice Powell emphasized that nothing less than the “ ‘nation’s future depends upon leaders trained through wide exposure’ to the ideas and mores of students as diverse as this Nation of many peoples.” Id.
, at 313 (quoting Keyishian
v. Board of Regents of Univ. of State of N. Y., 385 U.S. 589
, 603 (1967)). In seeking the “right to select those students who will contribute the most to the ‘robust exchange of ideas,’ ” a university seeks “to achieve a goal that is of paramount importance in the fulfillment of its mission.” 438 U.S., at 313. Both “tradition and experience lend support to the view that the contribution of diversity is substantial.” Ibid.
Justice Powell was, however, careful to emphasize that in his view race “is only one element in a range of factors a university properly may consider in attaining the goal of a heterogeneous student body.” Id., at 314. For Justice Powell, “[i]t is not an interest in simple ethnic diversity, in which a specified percentage of the student body is in effect guaranteed to be members of selected ethnic groups,” that can justify the use of race. Id., at 315. Rather, “[t]he diversity that furthers a compelling state interest encompasses a far broader array of qualifications and characteristics of which racial or ethnic origin is but a single though important element.” Ibid.