I won’t recap the divergent opinions about yesterday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling limiting schools’ ability to use race in allowing students to transfer to schools.
Read the opinion here.
The e-mails, predictions, offering of expert sources, rhetoric and general babble about the decision started about a month ago.
On the surface, this looks like another of the reverse-discrimination cases that have appeared with some regularity since the Bakke case of 1978 in which a white student who was denied admission several times to the University of California-Davis medical school sued and ultimately prevailed in a split ruling from the Warren Burger Supreme Court.
What interests me as much as the ruling is the opposite histories of the defendents in this week’s case, against whom a divided John Roberts Supreme Court ruled.
The Louisville, Ky., district wasn’t far removed from court-ordered desegregation, while the Seattle district never faced such judicial intervention. The same could be said of any number of district across the South, including Tulsa, which faced lawsuits during the 1960s and 70s and finally scrapped race-based admissions at Booker T. Washington High School and Carver Middle School in 2003 only to find the schools’ demographics hardly changed.
The Louisville district (actually, Jefferson County Public Schools), which was hauled into court because of Brown v. Board of Education, decades later became the co-defendent in a pivotal case that critics of the ruling say will undermine Brown’s promise of equality.
In an editorial, The (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal put it well:
“It declared impermissible the very same achievement of integration that those earlier jurists had so wisely required, with such profoundly gratifying results for our society.”
Despte the differences between the Louisville and Seattle districts, both promoted the idea of campus diversity though race-conscious student placement. Louisville spent 25 years under court order, which only ended in 2000. Afterward, schools had to keep black enrollment between 15 and 50 percent, The Courier-Journal reported.
“Yet while the justices affirmed the value of diversity, the decision took away one of the tools school districts commonly use to achieve it,” The Seattle Times reported.
Race was used as a “tiebreaker” in Seattle and more broadly in Louisville.
Some, no doubt, will see the ruling as a welcome reigning in of schools that have gone overboard with social engineering. Other will pity the districts for trying to maintain what they were ordered or, if not, strongly encouraged to do years ago to combat state-sanctioned segregation. Still others will see affirmative action’s death knell.
Housing patterns have largely guaranteed segregated schools for most students. To me, the bigger issue is not whether a school is integrated (although that is important for exposure to other people, cultures and ideas) but whether students are getting an equal education. The ruling doesn’t deal with these broad topics.
Our corner of the world has been a legal battleground over civil rights. Brown was a Kansas decision, while in Little Rock, Ark., in 1957, President Dwight Eisenhower federalized the Arkansas National Guard and allowed the “Little Rock Nine” to enroll at Central High School over the objections of Gov. Orval Faubus. The Army’s 101st Airborne Division provided security for the students.
Yesterday’s ruling has little to do with us, other than sparking a debate.