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The university's lawyer argued that decades of racial discrimination had shut minorities out of higher education and the professions. Therefore, the state had an interest and the university had a right to take race into account in order to increase the number of black, Chicano, Asian, or Native American professionals. He denied that the program established a quota for minorities.

Bakke's lawyer stated his case in terms of each individual's right to equal protection under the 14th Amendment. He argued that Bakke had been treated differently simply because he was white and that it was improper to use race as a classification in this situation.