Federal

Decision Sparks Divided Reactions

By David J. Hoff — June 28, 2007 3 min read
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School officials and traditional civil rights groups decried the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling today overturning policies intended to diversify student enrollments in the Jefferson County, Ky., and Seattle school districts. Meanwhile, others hailed the decision as a victory for those who say such initiatives create reverse discrimination.

One of Washington’s most powerful Democrats called the decision “appalling.” “Today’s decision turns Brown [v. Board of Education] upside down and ignores decades of constitutional history,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in a statement, referring to the 1954 decision that overturned segregation in public schools. “If this isn’t judicial activism, I don’t know what is.”

People for the American Way, a liberal activist group, called the decision “a terrible blow for school districts trying to overcome our nation’s long legacy of segregation and take seriously the importance of diversity.”

The other side of the political spectrum celebrated. “Racist School Policies Get the Supreme Smackdown,” wrote the Open Market blog, a project of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which advocates free markets.

The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, also approved of the decision. “That public institutions cannot be allowed to sort children based on race is consistent with the [U.S.] Constitution, was clearly established in Brown v. Board, and simply makes sense as a matter of justice. And it is good to see the court doing what it should in education, especially after so many years in which it and other federal courts required exactly the kind of racial engineering it prohibited today.”

One supporter of measures to promote integration suggested that the court should not have “the last word” on the questions posed in the case. “Congress must act immediately to explore legislative solutions that further the goals of an integrated and quality public education for all students,” wrote Cassandra Butts, the senior vice president for domestic policy at the Center for American Progress, a Democratic-leaning think tank.

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The Campaign to Restore Civil Rights, a coalition of groups that support efforts to diversify schools and other public institutions, said students recognize the importance of diversity and believe districts should be allowed to promote it. The campaign highlighted the winner of its recent essay contest, Jody Leung, who wrote: “Brown v. Board of Education paved the way for integration and the civil rights movement” and “made America a better place. … The time is now and we must encourage racial integration in classrooms.”

Shades of Gray

On the well-respected Scotusblog, lawyer Tom Goldstein points out that Associate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s concurring opinion may have preserved K-12 districts’ right to consider race in some school assignments. Justice Kennedy joined with four justices to form a majority saying that Seattle and Jefferson County, which includes Louisville, put too much emphasis on race in their school assignments. But the justice’s reasoning, Mr. Goldstein wrote, suggests that “that school districts may account for race as one factor among many in student placement.”

In its blog, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund highlights the factors that Justice Kennedy lists as possible ways districts could consider race in student assignments: “Such measures may include strategic site selection of new schools; drawing attendance zones with general recognition of neighborhood demographics; allocating resources for special programs; recruiting students and faculty in a targeted fashion; and tracking enrollments, performance, and other statistics by race.”

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