Excerpts from the Supreme Court’s ruling Thursday that struck down voluntary integration plans in public schools in Louisville, Ky., and Seattle:
From Chief Justice John Roberts’ majority opinion:
“The districts offer no evidence that the level of racial diversity necessary to achieve the asserted educational benefits happens to coincide with the racial demographics of the respective school districts -- or rather the white/nonwhite or black/'other’ balance of the districts, since that is the only diversity addressed by the plans.”
“Accepting racial balancing as a compelling state interest would justify the imposition of racial proportionality throughout American society, contrary to our repeated recognition that '[a]t the heart of the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection lies the simple command that the government must treat citizens as individuals, not as simply components of a racial, religious, sexual or national class.’ ”
“Simply because the school districts may seek a worthy goal does not mean they are free to discriminate on the basis of race to achieve it, or that their racial classifications should be subject to less exacting scrutiny.”
“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 (Ky.), the way ‘to achieve a system of determining admission to the public schools on a nonracial basis’ ... 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.”
From Justice Stephen Breyer’s dissent:
“The plurality pays inadequate attention to this law, to past opinions’ rationales, their language, and the contexts in which they arise. As a result, it reverses course and reaches the wrong conclusion. In doing so, it distorts precedent, it misapplies the relevant constitutional principles, it announces legal rules that will obstruct efforts by state and local governments to deal effectively with the growing resegregation of public schools, it threatens to substitute for present calm a disruptive round of race-related litigation, and it undermines Brown’s promise of integrated primary and secondary education that local communities have sought to make a reality.
“This cannot be justified in the name of the Equal Protection Clause.”
From Justice Anthony Kennedy’s concurring opinion:
“The enduring hope is that race should not matter; the reality is that too often it does. This is by way of preface to my respectful submission that parts of the opinion by the chief justice imply an all-too-unyielding insistence that race cannot be a factor in instances when, in my view, it may be taken into account.
“The plurality opinion is too dismissive of the legitimate interest government has in ensuring all people have equal opportunity regardless of their race. The plurality’s postulate that '[t]he way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race’ ... is not sufficient to decide these cases. Fifty years of experience since Brown v. Board of Education ... should teach us that the problem before us defies so easy a solution.
“School districts can seek to reach Brown’s objective of equal educational opportunity. The plurality opinion is at least open to the interpretation that the Constitution requires school districts to ignore the problem of de facto resegregation in schooling. I cannot endorse that conclusion.
“To the extent the plurality opinion suggests the Constitution mandates that state and local school authorities must accept the status quo of racial isolation in schools, it is, in my view, profoundly mistaken.”
From Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion:
“Contrary to the dissent’s arguments, resegregation is not occurring in Seattle or Louisville; these school boards have no present interest in remedying past segregation; and these race-based student-assignment programs do not serve any compelling state interest. Accordingly, the plans are unconstitutional. Disfavoring a colorblind interpretation of the Constitution, the dissent would give school boards a free hand to make decisions on the basis of race.”
“And foreshadowing today’s dissent, the segregationists most heavily relied upon judicial precedent.... The similarities between the dissent’s arguments and the segregationists’ arguments do not stop there. Like the dissent, the segregationists repeatedly cautioned the court to consider practicalities and not to embrace too theoretical a view of the 14th Amendment.
“And just as the dissent argues that the need for these programs will lessen over time, the segregationists claimed that reliance on segregation was lessening and might eventually end. What was wrong in 1954 cannot be right today.”
From Justice John Paul Stevens’ dissent:
“There is a cruel irony in the chief justice’s reliance on our decision in Brown v. Board of Education.... The first sentence in the concluding paragraph of his opinion states: ‘Before Brown, schoolchildren were told where they could and could not go to school based on the color of their skin.’ ... This sentence reminds me of Anatole France’s observation: '[T]he majestic equality of the la[w], forbid[s] rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal their bread.’
“The chief justice fails to note that it was only black schoolchildren who were so ordered; indeed, the history books do not tell stories of white children struggling to attend black schools.
“In this and other ways, the chief justice rewrites the history of one of this court’s most important decisions.”