Talking about Race and Education

By Mark Walsh — February 04, 2008 2 min read

Two upcoming events in two distinctly different areas of the country will involve discussions on race and education.

On Thursday, Feb. 7, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer will participate in a symposium in Hawaii that examines a legal challenge to the Kamehameha Schools’ policy of giving admissions preferences to Native Hawaiians, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin reports.

The private school, which enrolls 6,550 students on three campuses in Hawaii, last year settled a lawsuit brought on behalf of a white student who was denied admission to the school. The Kamehameha Schools had won a ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, in San Francisco, that upheld its policy. The court agreed that the schools’ definition of Native Hawaiians was a racial classification, but the majority said the preferential admissions policy was designed to counteract the educational deficits of Native Hawaiian children.

Despite winning in the appeals court, the Kamehameha Schools settled the lawsuit in the face of a possible review of its policy by the Supreme Court. I reported on the settlement in Education Week here.

The symposium at the University of Hawaii’s law school is part of a whole week of activity in which Justice Breyer will be a “jurist-in-residence” at the school. Other participants in the session on the Kamehameha Schools’ admissions policy will include Kathleen Sullivan, the former dean of the Stanford Law School, who defended the schools’ policy in court, and Eric Grant, a Sacramento, Calif., lawyer who represented the white student who challenged the policy.

It will be interesting to learn whether Justice Breyer really gets involved in the nitty gritty of the discussion over that case. Even though the challenge was settled, the school’s policy conceivably could come before the Supreme Court in a future case.

Sadly, I don’t think I can get my editors to dispatch me to Honolulu for the symposium, so I will be on the lookout for news reports after the fact.

However, I hope to be able to attend another conference examining race and education. On Feb. 22 in Washington, the Catholic University of America’s law school is planning a tribute to retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor titled, “Reflecting on Justice O’Connor’s jurisprudence relating to race and education.”

The conference will look at Justice O’Connor’s role in such cases as Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education , which addressed race-conscious teacher layoff decisions, and the University of Michigan admissions cases, Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger, in which Justice O’Connor held the pivotal vote in upholding affirmative action generally but striking down some aspects of the university’s race-conscious policies.

The conference brocure is here. Thanks to SCOTUSBlog for the tip.

A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.

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