Interest groups of every philosophical leaning managed to find something to like in yesterday's splintered Supreme Court decision to send 38-year-old Allan Bakke to medical school.
Those who sided with Bakke in his fight to gain admission to the University of California Medical School at Davis cheered the court for striking down arbitrary racial quotas.
Those who had backed the university seized on the justices' ruling that race can be considered in admissions policy. This, most agreed, was a victory for the vast majority of affirmative action programs in the country.
The Carter administration, which had argued both ways in its controversial brief, claimed the court's equally divided posture vindicated its position.
Speaking for the administration at an afternoon press briefing at the White House, Attorney General Griffin B. Bell said, "I think the whole country ought to be pleased."
He said the decision was a "great gain for affirmative action. It's the first time the Supreme Court ever upheld affirmative action and it did in as strong a way as possible."
Bell acknowledged that there will have to be other rulings in alleged reverse discrimination cases but that the court's Bakke decision is "a good start."
The court's split decision and mass of opinions did lead to confusion in some quarters.
Hastily written statements based on early radio reports had to be revised when interested parties got around to reading the assorted opinions. Some groups were calling in legal experts for seminars on how to interpret the nuances in the scores of pages of fine print.
A special problem, some said, was that the court had given no clear indication of how much race could be weighed as a factor in school admissions.
Former solicitor general Robert Bork, now a Yale Law School professor, said, "This isn't a landmark decision. It doesn't tell us how much race counts. We're told that we can count race somewhat, but not too much. That's going to be difficult to apply."
A collection of black leaders accentuated the positive aspects of the decision in an afternoon press conference in New York yesterday.
Benjamin Hooks, executive director of the NAACP, spoke for many civil rights leaders in calling the ruling "a mixed bag." He said he was disappointed Bakke won, but added he saw "a strong ray of hope" when swing vote Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. cited a Harvard University affirmative action plan as an example of one meeting the court's constitutional requirements.
Urban League Director Vernon Jordan said "the most important thing is that a majority of the Supreme Court backed the use of race as a permissible factor in affirmative action programs.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson was the most critical among the assembled black leaders. He viewed the decision as part of a national "move to the right," and even suggested that blacks might have to participate in economic boycotts or sit-ins - as they did during the civil rights movement in the '60s - as a way to emphasize their concerns.
Rep. Parren J. Mitchell (D-Md.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said that the group's members were "not pleased" by the decision, but did not view it as "the death knell for affirmative action."
Groups emphasizing the import of Bakke's personal victory yesterday included the conservative Young Americans for Freedom and a pair of Jewish organizations.
YAF Executive Director Ron Robinson said the decision was "an important step in eliminating the practices of reverse discrimination and quotas. It is now up to Congress to pick up where the court has left off."
Howard M. Squadron, president of the American Jewish Congress, which filed a friend of the court brief supporting Bakke, said his group was "gartified" at the "elimination of quota systems and the use of race as the sole criterion for university admission."
Arnold Forster, general counsel to the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, also expressed pleasure that Bakke won admission to medical school. But he expressed concern about how race could be used as one factor in admission "without that factor eventually becoming the determining factor."
Donald Reidhaar, the University of California general counsel who helped draft the university's case, joined those picking portions of the decision that supported their original positions. Though his client lost, he pointed out that the Supreme Court did reverse the California Supreme Court ruling that race could not be taken into account in admissions.
Dr. Jack Peltason, president of the American Council of Education, an umbrella group of colleges, said the decision shouldn't cause major problems for member schools because "we have more (affirmative action) programs like Harvard than like Davis."
He added that his organization planned to bring a team of legal experts into town next month to explain the finer points of the decision.
John A.D. Cooper, president of the American Association of Medical Colleges, was one of those yesterday who had to revise his first opinion of the decision. After putting out an early statement of disappointment, Cooper later shifted to say his group was pleased that the majority of the court accepted the use of race as a factor.
He said, "The Davis approach was a direct and explicit way to achieve racial diversity in medicine." Since the court struck down that approach, he added, "the problem for medical schools is to find an acceptable weight to be given to race as one of the factors in an admissions policy."
Norman Dorson, chairman of the American Civil Liberties Union, estimated that 90 percent of present affirmative actions programs would be upheld by the decision.
He noted the court found unconstitutional only those "relatively rare" programs where persons are excluded because of race and no past discrimination has been proved.
Dorsen said he was fearful, though, that the pro-Bakke ruling might "sap the will" of officials charged with managing affirmative action programs.
Alan M. Dershowitz, a Harvard University law professor, agreed the decision will make the job of admissions officers tougher. "It will make them look at people as persons, not as members of a group and not as computerized ciphers," he said.
Business and labor mostly withheld judgment about the decision, in part because they have their own reverse discrimination case - about a 10 percent minority contractors rule in federal projects - pending before the court.
William Knapp, an attorney for the Chamber of Commerce of the U.S.A. said, "There was a lack of guidance in this decision. There will have to be additional suits to clarify this."
An AFL-CIO spokesman said the union group had taken no position on the Bakke case and that its own affirmative action program - for apprentices - would be unaffected because they have been open to whites.
Most of those questioned yesterday cautioned there will have to be careful readings of the decision, Attorney General Bell, for one, noted gave President Carter a copy of opinions "for his nighttime reading."
He said Carter was pleased affirmative action was upheld. "We had [WORD ILLEGIBLE] little interest in Mr. Bakke as an individual," Bell said. "We wish him well."