Monday, July 02, 2007

Racial Discrimination in Education

This past Thursday June 28, 2007, in "Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School Dist. No. 1," the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5 (Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Alito) to 4 (Breyer, Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg) that public schools may not use race as the sole determining factor for assigning students to schools, but that race-conscious objectives to achieve a diverse school environment are acceptable.

I get the impression that Roberts is somewhat evasive, but that he ultimately leans away from any racial discrimination, stating, "The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race."

Despite Kennedy's concurrence with most of Roberts' opinion, he rejects the idea that race should never be a factor:

"A compelling interest exists in avoiding racial isolation, an interest that a school district, in its discretion and expertise, may choose to pursue. Likewise, a district may consider it a compelling interest to achieve a diverse student population. Race may be one component of that diversity, but other demographic factors, plus special talents and needs, should also be considered."
Stevens and Breyer were greatly displeased with the majority. Stevens wrote,
"The Court has changed significantly since it decided School Comm. of Boston in 1968. It was then more faithful to Brown and more respectful of our precedent than it is today. It is my firm conviction that no Member of the Court that I joined in 1975 would have agreed with today’s decision."
And Breyer said, regarding the Court's decision: "It is not often in the law that so few have so quickly changed so much."

The NY Times looks at its effect on schools, and concludes:
"In light of the court ruling, school officials are already emphasizing newer efforts to promote diversity with the indirect emphasis on race they believe the court will tolerate. They include placing appealing academic programs in schools that have particularly heavy minority populations in an effort to attract more white students and possibly redrawing enrollment boundaries around economically diverse neighborhoods to bring a broader mix of students to certain schools."
What do you think? Was it a good decision? Or was it judicial activism?

Is there a compelling interest or moral imperative to maintain racial diversity? Does this extend to group diversity of other qualities by which we otherwise should not judge individuals? How should we determine the proper balance of such diversity?

Do you think this ruling is indicative of the Court's opinion on Affirmative Action? or on Racial Profiling?

More generally, what do you think about this Court? A lot is being made about this new "conservative" Court and how it is reshaping precedent. Is the new Court more influenced by an originalist view of the Constitution or simply their own conservative politics?



Robert Link said...

Kevin asks: Do you think this ruling is indicative of the Court's opinion on Affirmative Action?

Seems to me it shouldn't, because I don't think the Court needed to reach the merits in order to rule on the case. The binary system of "white/non-white" was, to my eye, fatal. And I'm very much for Affirmative Action. But, 'cmon, they've got to at least try to do it wisely, fairly, sanely.

Enjoy your posts at Balkinization. Would follow up in email but haven't found your contact info yet...


Kevin said...

Hi Robert,

Thanks for your comment, and welcome to our blog.

Do you think the schools' criteria was unfair because it was merely binary "white/non-white" and didn't include more races, or because race was explicitly a determining factor?

Contrary to Kennedy, Roberts seems to suggest that race should not even be an explicit factor, but instead only an incidental one, and the school officials appear to be adopting this more narrow approach. Is this too narrow?

P.S. I'm glad you enjoyed my post at Balkinization. I've contacted you by e-mail, though my preference is to discuss such topics on the blog.