In the weeks following the passage of Proposal 2, it seemed to many students at the University that campus diversity would soon hit rock bottom. Less than a month later, another contentious racial integration issue is being breached – this time, in the U.S. Supreme Court. And once again, it doesn’t look good for proponents of integration.
Arguments began Monday on two different but related cases, one from Louisville, Ky. and the other from Seattle, Wash. The issue at hand is the constitutionality of integration programs in these cities’ school districts. Both districts allow students to pick what school they wish to attend and then make assignments, taking into account factors like school capacity, geographic location – and race. To foster a diverse racial makeup, students can be denied access to their school of choice and transferred elsewhere.
These schools are simply trying to break down the most ingrained social barrier in our society. Racial segregation pervades most urban areas, and housing, employment and social segregation plague even the most diverse cities. Schools in Louisville and Seattle should be commended for trying to combat the effects of segregation. Instead, disgruntled moms whose kids didn’t get their preferred school are suing them.
This is not a case of some worthy applicant being denied admission to a prestigious university. Seattle’s lawyer, Michael Madden, insisted in his arguments that the schools in question are all comparable, and the city’s system is not in place to right the wrongs of economic disparity. Students in these cities are still getting an equal education – only with the added benefits of a racially diverse learning environment.
It might seem that policies to promote integration in K-12 schools shouldn’t be legally controversial. After all, the landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education held that separate is inherently unequal. And yet Chief Justice John Roberts ironically cited the Brown precedent during oral arguments Monday – to argue against integration. It’s a shame that some conservative members of the Supreme Court fail to see the importance of policies to promote diversity, particularly in light of our heavily segregated society.
Many observers expect the court, with two Bush appointees who are hearing a case on race for the first time, to strike down the policies. Such a ruling, however, would do great damage to the principle of stare decisis. In 2003, the court ruled in Grutter v. Bollinger, the case that challenged the admission policy at the University’s law school, that race was an acceptable factor in college admissions. To throw out this precedent after such a short time would make it appear that politics had determined the outcome of the case and could only damage the reputation of the court.