Race, schools, and the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court ruled today that school systems cannot take race into account in deciding where students attend school.  Chief Justice John Roberts, the author of the Court's opinion, wrote:

“The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race,” Roberts wrote.

Hard to argue with that.  Yet, the Louisville school system relied on a largely voluntary system that only prevents schools from being more than 50% black or less than 15% black.   It must be a lot easier to get the Supreme Court decisions you want when you ignore the facts of the case.  Perhaps even worse, Roberts tried to argue that this decision was in keeping with the spirit of Brown v. Board of Ed.  Not so, writes Walter Dellinger in Slate:

The idea that the principle of Brown condemns the valiant
efforts of, say, the Louisville community to maintain schools attended
by both black and white students seems profoundly wrong to me. The
Louisville school system (I keep using Louisville, because I know that
case better) takes account of the race of students to keep each school
integrated. They don't try to replicate the one-third-black percentage
of the district as a whole in each school, but they do take race into
account where that figure would otherwise fall below 15 percent or
above 50 percent. Good people, black and white, in Louisville have
refused to give up on the public schools. They know that sharp
imbalances in the race of a school population leads to “white flight'
from the schools and that using race to keep schools integrated is
essential to the viability of public schools…

Looking at today's cases from the vantage point of the Brown
decision, the idea that the Supreme Court would condemn the valiant
efforts of the Louisville community is extraordinary. The people of
Louisville want a community that is not separated by race, beginning
with a school system in which white and black children learn to know
one another.

Brown condemned a
system of Southern racial apartheid, a system of racial domination and
subordination. It is the worst form of literalism to believe that the
cases now before the court can be decided by the fact that the phrase
“classifying by race” can be used to cover two radically different
notions. Only by blinding oneself to history and common sense can one
assume that the use of race to maintain the monstrosity of the Jim Crow
regime of the South and the use of race to achieve an integrated
society in Louisville are one and the same.

I will be curious to see if either system involved in the case attempts a system similar to what we have here in Wake County, NC.  Rather than integrating schools by race, the county has a goal that no school will have more than 40% of students receiving a subsidized lunch.  By substituting socio-economic status for race, it seems to do a fairly good job of racial/ethnic integration without too much controversy.  I am honestly surprised more places do not follow this model.  Given this Supreme Court decisions, such plans may be the way of the future. 


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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