In what is becoming an almost predictable 5-4 vote on politicized legal issues, the U.S. Supreme Court today rejected the Seattle School District plan that in part uses race to decide which public school a student can attend. Though the district had stopped using the "open choice" assignment plan, it had hoped to reintroduce it.
Under open choice, race was sometimes used as a tiebreaker (to determine which students could attend preferred schools) when the schools were more than 65 percent white or 75 percent minority. In 2000-01 for example, race was factored into 300 of 3,000 9th grade assignments.
The court also turned down a similar plan used in the Louisville, Ky. District, and the ruling is expected to affect hundreds of U.S. districts that diversify schools by regulating their blance based on skin color of students - sometimes preventing students from attending schools in their own neighborhoods. Reports the Associated Press:
The court split, 5-4, with Chief Justice John Roberts announcing the court's judgment. Justice Stephen Breyer wrote a dissent that was joined by the court's other three liberals.
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote a concurring opinion, the AP reports, in which he said race may be a component of school district plans designed to achieve diversity. While he agreed with Roberts that the Seattle and Louisville methods went too far for balance, he said that - to the extent that Roberts' opinion could be interpreted as foreclosing the use of race in any circumstance - "I disagree with that reasoning."
Bloomberg News noted that Justices John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Breyer dissented. Stevens pointed to what he called the cruel irony of Roberts's invocation of the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation decision.
It is my firm conviction that no member of the court I joined in 1975 would have agreed with today's decision,'' Stevens wrote.
The Bush administration opposed the Seattle and Louisville plans, siding with parents who sued after their children couldn't enroll at preferred schools.
The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race,'' Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for four of the court's justices.