Supremes Say Equal Means Equal

The Supreme Court issued its final blockbuster opinion today, rejecting public school assignment plans that take account of students' race. The plurality ruling is one more case in point between Justice Samuel Alito and the justice he replaced, Sandra Day O'Connor.

The ruling involves a case from Seattle, WA, Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1, and its companion case from Louisville, KY, Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education.  By quashing the race-based plans, the Court jeopardizes similar plans in hundreds of public school districts across the country seeking to “maintain racial diversity” while essentially ignoring the 14th Amendment, which reads:

“No state … shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Chief Justice John Roberts explained the plurality's reasoning simply enough that school children can grasp why race-based plans offend the 14th Amendment. Hopefully, the egghead academy and media will get it too:

What do the racial classifications do in these cases, if not determine admission to a public school on a racial basis?

Before Brown, schoolchildren were told where they could and could not go to school based on the color of their skin. The school districts in these cases have not carried the heavy burden of demonstrating that we should allow this once again—even for very different reasons. For schools that never segregated on the basis of race, such as Seattle, or that have removed the vestiges of past segregation, such as Jefferson County, the way “to achieve a system of determining admission to the public schools on a nonracial basis,” Brown II, 349 U. S., at 300–301, is to stop assigning students on a racial basis. The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.

The judgments of the Courts of Appeals for the Sixth and Ninth Circuits are reversed, and the cases are remanded for further proceedings.

Justice Anthony Kennedy agreed with Roberts that the plans in Louisville and Seattle violated constitutional guarantees of equal protection, but wrote in his concurring opinion that race may be a component of school district plans designed to achieve diversity:

Race may be one component of that diversity, but other demographic factors, plus special talents and needs, should also be considered. What the government is not permitted to do, absent a showing of necessity not made here, is to classify every student on the basis of race and to assign each of them to schools based on that classification. Crude measures of this sort threaten to reduce children to racial chits valued and traded according to one school's supply and another's demand.

Justice Clarence Thomas expressed his belief and commitment to a “color-blind Constitution”:

[T]here is no reason to think that black students cannot learn as well when surrounded by members of their own race as when they are in an integrated environment. …

Most of the dissent's criticisms of today's result can be traced to its rejection of the color-blind Constitution. See post, at 29. The dissent attempts to marginalize the notion of a color-blind Constitution by consigning it to me and Members of today's plurality. … But I am quite comfortable in the company I keep. My view of the Constitution is Justice Harlan's view in Plessy: “Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.”

Justice Stevens' dissent expresses his view that the Court was not “entirely loyal to Brown [v. Bd. of Ed.]”

Justice Breyer concluded:

The last half-century has witnessed great strides toward racial equality, but we have not yet realized the promise of Brown. To invalidate the plans under review is to threaten the promise of Brown. The plurality's position, I fear, would break that promise. This is a decision that the Court and the Nation will come to regret.

Today's opinion is the first on the issue since 2003, when a 5-4 ruling upheld the limited consideration of race in admissions at the University of Michigan Law School to attain a diverse student body. Justice O'Connor wrote the majority opinion in that case, Grutter v. Bollinger.  Now she has been replaced by Justice Alito, who has changed the Court's balance of power on this issue.

Wouldn't it be marvelous if education bureaucrats were focused on teaching all kids to read and write well and learn the Supreme Law of the land instead of jettisoning the Constitution to achieve some amorphous, racist diversity? Wouldn't it be splendid if candidates for public office had to have a passing familiarity with the Constitution they swear to uphold?

Jan LaRue, Esq. is a member of the Culture and Media Institute's Board of Advisors.