Monday, September 20, 2010

Kennedy's & Roberts' Jurisprudence in Action: School Desegregation

Robert Barnes of the Washington Post has a a wonderful article on the changes wrought by the United States Supreme Court's 2007 decision, Parents Involved Community School District v. Seattle.  Parents Involved is a 5-4 decision by the Court in which Chief Justice Roberts attempted to severely limit, if not eliminate, the ability of public school's to use race to achieve racial equality. The controlling opinion was written by Justice Kennedy, who found the Roberts opinion too extreme.  Roberts's opinion precluded the public schools from using race to achieve racial equality, but Kennedy's opinion provided a limited way forward. 

Robert Barnes returned to Louisville, Kentucky and one of the school districts at issue before the Supreme Court, to determine how they were responding to the Court's decision.  Here is a short excerpt from the article:
The impact of the decision, which directly involved schools here and in Seattle and set rules for school boards across the nation, already has been noteworthy. Seattle has mostly abandoned efforts to force diverse classrooms; it has returned to a system of neighborhood schools augmented by magnet schools and new educational programs scattered throughout the city.
After the ruling, the Bush administration, which supported the challenges to the plans in Seattle and Louisville, warned other local school officials to be wary of assignment plans that relied on race. School attorneys advised their boards that such plans were sure to be challenged. The message was reinforced when conservative legal groups forced changes in school assignments in places as diverse as New York City and Beaumont, Tex.
The decision was cited when courts struck down teacher-assignment plans based on race in Memphis and Cincinnati.
But Louisville, along with a number of other like-minded systems across the country, is betting that using socioeconomic factors, not just race, will help maintain diverse schools and meet the Supreme Court's requirements.
Those who have battled the school system here say it is nothing more than an end run around the court's decision, a misguided experiment by school officials who should be focused on the bigger goal of improving education.

I highly recommend this piece.  It fits with the literature on the the ability of the Supreme Court to affect change. The conservative majority on the Supreme Court clearly attempted to profoundly change the ability of the government to use race to achieve racial equality.  After reading this article, in my view, the Court's impact has been negative, at best. 

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