Segregation Decisions

Some are hailing it as the right thing to do. While others say it’s brought shame to the Supreme Court. On June 28, 2007, the court issued what will likely be a landmark decision - one that some say threatens the historic decision a half century ago that outlawed racial segregation in schools.

For years, students like Howard Brim have benefited from Louisville’s controversial school-choice program.

“Ballard High School has a much higher education standard than my home school,” said Brim, a Ballard High student.

But the Supreme Court strikes down the plan that helped Brim get into Ballard High, ruling that Louisville’s method, and one in Seattle, are unconstitutional - because when popular public schools start to fill up, they use race as a key factor in deciding who gets in and who doesn’t.

“The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race,” said Chief Justice John Roberts, for the 5-to-4 majority.

Parents of different races joined in lawsuits to stop these plans and believe the court’s made the playing-field a little more even.

“I agree with integration, but not at the cost of my child’s education,” plaintiff, Deborah Stallworth said.

Those who’d favored race-based admissions see ominous clouds building. Justice Stephen Breyer, his voice halting with emotion, said in dissent, “This is a decision that the court and the nation will come to regret.”

Others believe this rolls back gains made by the court’s historic Brown vs. Board of Education ruling in 1954 - ending school segregation.

“If the result of this is that schools re-segregate even more quickly and more profoundly, then what we are facing is not only racially separate, but also financially unequal schools,” said Theodore Shaw, with the NAACP legal defense.

Analysts said this is part of the court’s ongoing struggle with race in schools, with the balance now tipped toward the conservative majority.

“Over time they’ve tightened and tightened and tightened the rules and made it more difficult for schools to use affirmative action and I think today’s decision walks right up to the water’s edge of saying never,” said Edward Lazarus, author of “Closed Chambers.”

So what’ll public school-choice programs do now to make close calls on admissions? Experts say they’ll likely base them on neighborhood geography, economic situations, other factors - but if they use race, they’d better be very, very careful.