School Integration Cases

The question presented to the court is, basically, whether in order to integrate a public school, school officials can select students based in part on the student’s race. Thus far, it looks like the smart money is on the Seattle and Louisville school districts losing. So it will soon not only be unconstitutional to segregate students on the basis of race but also unconstitutional to do anything about existing segregation. Interesting.

Local reactions:

Three local systems, Decatur and Lawrence and Limestone counties, are under federal desegregation orders. Each works under plans aimed at making their schools more diverse.

Decatur Superintendent Sam Houston said the difference in Louisville and Seattle cases and the local cases are those two cities achieved “unitary status,” a term showing that they no longer operate under a federal court order.

“I’m not a lawyer,” Houston said. “But on the surface, it doesn’t appear our situations are the same.”

He’s probably right, for now. The new rule should not apply to districts that have yet to remedy their own historical de jure segregation. But what the cases will mean is that when the school achieves unitary status, it will probably have to stop doing everything it did to achieve that status. That is the situation in the Louisville system. What they are doing now is what they did when they were under a consent decree. But there is no more decree. So Scotus is about to tell them to quit what they are doing. Of course, what that holding will mean for Louisville and for the Alabama districts is an immediate return to the status quo ante: segregated schools.

In addition to the fascinating substance and odd impact, the case provides a test for orginalists:

The problem is that it’s almost impossible to justify striking down affirmative action programs in “originalist” terms, and the Supreme Court’s purportedly “originalist” judges have never bothered to try. If you look at the relevant jurisprudence of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, you’ll see ahistorical assertions that the language of the 14th Amendment prohibits all racial classifications along with powerful policy arguments  against the practice, but no attempt to prove that the 14th Amendment was understood at the time of its ratification to proscribe racial classifications intended to alleviate past discrimination. And the reason for this is obvious: it is implausible in the extreme to argue that, at the time of the Reconstruction Congress, the equal protection clause was generally understood to prohibit all racial classifications.

While it’s not strictly accurate to say that you can’t defend the Thomas/Scalia position on state racial classifications in “originalist” terms, you can do so only by defining constitutional principles at such a high level of abstraction that “originalism” is essentially devoid of content. If this is what originalism means, then William Brennan can be considered an originalist, Roe v. Wade is perfectly defensible in originalist terms, etc. etc.

What? You mean Scalia and Thomas are nothing more than results oriented hacks? Those are fighting words! Publius at Legal Fiction calls this “Originalism’s Ladder.”

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Explore posts in the same categories: Alabama News, Education, Equal Protection, Scotus

4 Comments on “School Integration Cases”

  1. Willie Says:

    I listened to this Monday, quite interesting. Seems to me that Seattle was trying to achieve more balance in their schools by busing white kids to black and hispanic schools. Admirable, but “busing” still the same. I have mixed emotions on this case, I do think it that kids benefit somewhat in going to a school that is diverse, but if it hinders one group more than it helps another, then I have a problem with this system.
    Here in LA, we have magnet schools that do basically the same, but they are schools that equal some of the top private schools here. This is good for all, but if you bus kids to mediocre schools this is always going to cause problems.

  2. A.F. Says:

    In the course of the article, this sentence appears: “Of course, what that holding will mean for Louisville and for the Alabama districts is an immediate return to the status quo ante: segregated schools.” I could not disagree more.

    There is a glaring flaw with such an argument. The underlying assumption of such a statement seems to be that, without a race-focused integration plan in place, schools will go right back to 1954. However, to propound such a statement, one must believe that nothing else has changed in America since 1954. Nothing could be further from reality.

    Culturally, economically, demographically, philosophically, technologically, politically and socially we are nowhere near the nation we were in 1954. Therefore, we could not possibly return to the status quo ante.

    As the University of Michigan found out after its race-focused admissions plan was ordered scrapped, the number of black enrollees dropped but not by much. Black Michigan students actually made gains, considering that a higher percentage of applications were accepted. Even after a decrease in black student applications, the University maintained almost the same enrollment.

    The result of ending race-focused integration plans is not that schools head toward segregation, and to say so is an insult to school administrators, faculty and board members everywhere, many of whom are minorities. Rather, the result is almost always the same: schools seek out other focuses by which to maintain diversity. Economics, geography, athletic ability, scholastic achievement and “disadvantage” or poverty become the new criteria upon which we integrate schools and universities. And in the modern era, this is a more equitable way to focus funding and admissions slots, as the underclass of America is no longer defined by race alone.

  3. Wheeler Says:

    a.f.

    “The result of ending race-focused integration plans is not that schools head toward segregation, and to say so is an insult to school administrators, faculty and board members everywhere, many of whom are minorities.”

    i did not intend to imply that school administrators would return to pre-brown intentional racial segregation. what i meant was that general residential patterns mean that schools will in fact be segregated if those schools are not allowed to use race as a factor in deciding who goes to what school. my fault for not being clear on that issue.


  4. I disagree, Wheeler. It would be segregated, but not by race. I’ve witnessed a very diverse population in the Trussville and Hoover school zones alone, including blacks, Hispanics, Middle Eastern, and Asian. Similarly, I know a few white families who live in predominantly black neighborhoods in the Birmingham area. I went to a mostly-black school for my last two years of high school.

    But all this depends on where you can afford to live. While they wouldn’t be seperated by race, I COULD see a seperation by class. And no, not all public schools are equal, but I’ve found that this has almost nothing to do with state funding. It has everything to do with the community and the parents and how much they are willing to put into their local school, and that isn’t limited to money. It also includes time and volunteer work.


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