Justice Official Raps Busing, Affirmative-Action Programs

Article Tools
  • PrintPrinter-Friendly
  • EmailEmail Article
  • ReprintReprints
  • CommentsComments

Advocates of mandatory student busing for desegregation and affirmative action in hiring are guilty of "fighting discrimination with discrimination," according to the Justice Department's principal civil-rights enforcement official.

The Reagan Administration will continue to challenge such "remedies of overreaction," said William Bradford Reynolds during a recent address at Amherst College in western Massachusetts.

"If history taught us any lesson at all, it is that the use of race to justify treating individuals differently--whether they be black or white--can never be legitimate," said Mr. Reynolds, who holds the title assistant attorney general for civil rights. "Regrettably, we have too often disregarded that admonition, always with predictably dire consequences."

According to Mr. Reynolds, the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education, in which the Justices ordered the desegregation of the Topeka, Kan., school system, "flatly and unequivocally condemned" the practice of assigning children to schools on the basis of race. That decision, he added, was substantially bolstered by the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

"These judicial and legislative pronouncements reflected a national consensus that racial classifications are wrong--and ought not to be tolerated in any form or for any reason," Mr. Reynolds said. "[But] that dream began to fade in the 1970's when the quest for equality of opportunity gradually evolved into an insistence upon equality of results."

"For those advancing this new thesis, numerical parity became the watchword for equal opportunity," Mr. Reynolds said. "If a racial preference will achieve the desired statistical result, its discriminatory feature can be tolerated, we are told, as an unfortunate but necessary consequence of remedying 'the effects of past discrimination.'

"Thus, we come full circle: fighting discrimination with discrimination, or--to put the argument in the terms of those who advance it--using race 'in order to get beyond racism,"' he continued.

A Judicial Obsession

The Court's acknowledgement in Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenberg Board of Education that mandatory student transportation was a justifiable desegregation technique "evolved into nothing short of a judicial obsession with the 'yellow school bus,"' Mr. Reynolds said.

"After more than a decade of court-ordered busing, the evidence is overwhelming that the effort to desegregate through wholesale reliance on race-conscious student-assignment plans has failed," he said. "The destruction to public education wrought by mandatory busing is evident in city after city."

"It is not difficult to understand why," Mr. Reynolds continued. "The flight from urban public schools contributes to the erosion of the municipal tax base, which in turn has a direct bearing on the growing inability of many school systems to provide a quality public education to their students--whether black or white. Similarly, the loss of parental support and involvement--which often comes with the abandonment of a neighborhood-school policy--has robbed many public-school systems of a critical component of successful educational programs."

As a consequence, he said, "the promise of Brown v. Board of Education remains unfulfilled."

"[This Administration] will continue to challenge the remedies of overreaction," Mr. Reynolds said. "Racial quotas in the workforce or the schoolroom will not be sought, nor will they be accepted."

Instead, the Administration will promote programs "to expand recruitment, to reach out and include those minorities who were previously excluded, and then to judge all applicants on their individual merit, without discrimination," he said.

"In education, the policy should be to expand educational opportunities with special magnet schools and other devices and then to allow all children to attend these or other schools regardless of race or residence," Mr. Reynolds continued. "With this approach, the cruel injustice of racial discrimination will be cured, not by imposing burdens on innocent individuals because of color, but by reaching out to all individuals and extending to them an enhanced measure of opportunity and consideration based on merit."

In a related development, the Reagan Administration asked a federal appeals court in Cincinnati last week to declare unconstitutional the Detroit police department's affirmative-action promotion plan.

Promotion of Equal Numbers

Last March, a three-member panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld the police department's plan, which requires the promotion of equal numbers of blacks and whites to the rank of lieutenant. The Justice Department asked the full court to rehear the lawsuit and to declare the promotion policy unconstitutional because it "impermissibly infringes on the equal-protection rights of nonblack police sergeants."

The Administration's filing in the case marks the third time that it has challenged the affirmative-action plans of local government agencies. The Justice Department has become a party to similar cases involving police officers and firefighters in New Orleans and Boston.

Education officals have been monitoring the three cases closely because their outcomes could have an effect on similar hiring plans for teachers, administrators, and staff members.

Vol. 02, Issue 33

Notice: We recently upgraded our comments. (Learn more here.) If you are logged in as a subscriber or registered user and already have a Display Name on edweek.org, you can post comments. If you do not already have a Display Name, please create one here.
Ground Rules for Posting
We encourage lively debate, but please be respectful of others. Profanity and personal attacks are prohibited. By commenting, you are agreeing to abide by our user agreement.
All comments are public.

Back to Top Back to Top

Most Popular Stories