Thursday, June 28, 2007

Supreme Court Strangles Brown

The Brown in question here is Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark 1954 Supreme Court case that struck down legal segregation in U.S. schools. The decision also laid the basis for a series of other court cases (notably the second Brown case in 1955) and laws meant to advance social policy to reverse segregation and other discriminatory practices in society "with all deliberate speed".

Today, the Supreme Court by a 5-4 decision has ended the integration plans of two school districts in Louisville, Kentucky, and Seattle, Washington. In a separate opinion, SCOTUS Judge Kennedy left open the door for the use of racial criteria in some limited amount of cases. I'm not sure what the criteria for such is, but it didn't stop Kennedy from joining the conservative wing of the court in throwing out the integration plans of the above school disticts.

According to the New York Times account:

While [Chief Justice] Roberts said the court was being faithful to the Brown decision, Justice John Paul Stevens in a separate dissent called the chief justice's reliance on Brown to rule against integration "a cruel irony."

A demonstration of the twisted logic of the majority -- really a rehash of the old "reverse discrimination" argument of the 60s and 70s -- is demonstrated by this quote from the majority (brought to my attention in the excellent diary by The Maven over at Daily Kos):

Before Brown, schoolchildren were told where they could and could not go to school based on the color of their skin. The school districts in these cases have not carried the heavy burden of demonstrating that we should allow this once again—even for very different reasons. For schools that never segregated on the basis of race, such as Seattle, or that have removed the vestiges of past segregation, such as Jefferson County, the way "to achieve a system of determining admission to the public schools on a nonracial basis," Brown II, 349 U.S., at 300-301, is to stop assigning students on a racial basis. The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.

Justice Breyer replied to this travesty of justice and logical thinking in his dissenting opinion(again, thanks to The Maven):

Finally, what of the hope and promise of Brown? For much of this Nation's history, the races remained divided. It was not long ago that people of different races drank from separate fountains, rode on separate buses, and studied in separate schools. In this Court's finest hour, Brown v. Board of Education challenged this history and helped to change it. For Brown held out a promise. It was a promise embodied in three Amendments designed to make citizens of slaves. It was the promise of true racial equality--not as a matter of fine words on paper, but as a matter of everyday life in the Nation's cities and schools. It was about the nature of a democracy that must work for all Americans. It sought one law, one Nation, one people, not simply as a matter of legal principle but in terms of how we actually live....

The last half-century has witnessed great strides toward racial equality, but we have not yet realized the promise of Brown. To invalidate the plans under review is to threaten the promise of Brown. The plurality's position, I fear, would break that promise. This is a decision that the Court and the Nation will come to regret.

I must dissent.

Historically, Brown has been under attack by the conservative members of the Supreme Court. Clarence Thomas, in Missouri v. Jenkins (1995) espoused black separatist language, which really only amounts to separate but equal ideology: the harm that it identified was tied purely to de jure segregation, not de facto segregation....

Given that desegregation has not produced the predicted leaps forward in black educational achievement, there is no reason to think that black students cannot learn as well when surrounded by members of their own race as when they are in an integrated environment.

Contrast that with Justice Warren's language from the original Brown case:

Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments. Compulsory school attendance laws and the great expenditures for education both demonstrate our recognition of the importance of education to our democratic society. It is required in the performance of our most basic public responsibilities, even service in the armed forces. It is the very foundation of good citizenship. Today it is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment. In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.

The court opinions from today are available online at this link.

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