Reversal of an Integration Decision

By Steigerwald, Bill | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, July 1, 2007 | Go to article overview
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Reversal of an Integration Decision

Steigerwald, Bill, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

The U.S. Supreme Court made history Thursday by striking down integration plans in school districts in Seattle and Louisville, Ky., that used race as a way to determine which schools students should attend. The 5-4 decision was split along liberal- conservative lines with Justice Anthony Kennedy tipping the balance in the combined opinion on Meredith v. Jefferson County Board and a similar case, Community Schools v. Seattle School District #1.

Liberals were generally dismayed by the ruling, which they feel undoes decades of race-based school integration schemes. But conservatives were pleased to hear Chief Justice John Roberts say, "The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race."

Probably no one was happier to hear those words from a Supreme Court justice than Ward Connerly. The chairman of the American Civil Rights Institute, he has worked tirelessly for years to oppose or reverse laws that use racial and gender preferences in schools and workplaces. I caught up with Connerly by phone Thursday evening at his home in Sacramento, Calif.

Q: Can you sum up what these cases were about and why you are so pleased by the decision?

A: The question revolves around whether K through 12 schools could use a student's race to determine what classes that kid could attend, or which school that kid could attend. While the cases did not deal with segregation of a school, as Brown v. Board of Education did, it dealt with the whole question of whether it constitutes discrimination to use race even in the pursuit of diversity in racial balancing. The court said, "No."

Now, it's important to understand that four of the justices were in favor of absolute colorblindness -- (Samuel) Alito, (John) Roberts, (Antonin) Scalia and (Clarence) Thomas. Four of the justices were in favor of color consciousness. And one, Justice (Anthony) Kennedy, said, "I side with the colorblind people for the most part, but not absolutely."

Kennedy essentially said that "I want you to prove it to me in other venues whether race should be used in K through 12, but my mind is open to that possibility." So if someone could devise a seemingly race-neutral way to arrive at not an exclusive use of race but a race-intended outcome, Justice Kennedy was saying, "I'm going to look at that." Roberts, et al., were saying, "We don't even want to hear it."

Q: You are pleased by this decision a lot, a little bit, what?

A: I am very pleased by the decision because the majority opinion represents a complete reversal of the (Grutter v. Bollinger) decision that was handed down June 23, 2003, involving the University of Michigan (which upheld the right of universities to consider race in admissions procedures in order to achieve a diverse student body). So I'm very pleased with it in that regard. I would have been ecstatic if Justice Kennedy had said, "I favor total colorblindness." He didn't say that.

Q: What was the worst aspect of the plans that were being used to try to balance the school systems in Seattle and Louisville?

A: The worst part was that they were really selecting these kids on the basis of race. They were saying in the Louisville case that the minimum percentage of black kids in a school would be 15 percent and the maximum would be 50 percent. That was essentially a quota, and the court has always come down against quotas.

Q: Who was being hurt most by that system -- black kids, white kids, or both?

A: Both. That's why you had parents from both groups involved in the lawsuit. They were saying, "If you are a black parent, my kid has to go on an hour and 15 minute bus ride across town to go to a white school driving past his neighborhood school." White parents were saying, "Well, so does our kid." So they were both upset that their kids were being used for this ostensibly social experiment, the value of which has yet to manifest itself.

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