The U.S. Supreme Court did something immensely important this week, but apparently few people are in agreement as to what it was. MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann announced on his blog that the Court had overturned Brown v. Board of Education (!). A near-hysterical report in Harper’s magazine by Scott Horton said Jim Crow had reappeared and that the Supreme Court had turned the clock back “to the dismal era before 1954.” Horton concluded the article by asserting, “The Roberts Court has adopted a new watchword, and it is Resegregation.”


Now let’s all take a deep breath and see what actually did take place. By a vote of 5-4, the Court said that integration plans in two cities, Seattle and Louisville, Kentucky, were unconstitutional because they primarily considered race in making pupil assignments in some of those two cities’ schools. The Court simply said that the plans were unconstitutional because the school districts “were treating each student in a different fashion solely on the basis of a systematic, individual typing by race” [Justice Anthony Kennedy].


In handing down the ruling, Chief Justice John Roberts, in a statement sure to be included in the all-time quotable quotes of the Court said, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” To be sure, the present system, which uses busing among other tools to achieve integration, has not been successful and has had many negative consequences. The National Institute of Education conducted exhaustive studies, but could not find a single instance showing that black students fared appreciably better after switching to white schools. “In fact,” the Institute concluded, “it is patronizing to think that minority students need to sit next to a white student in order to learn.”


In many cases school districts that use busing to achieve integration were swamped with letters from angry parents who said their children often spent as much as three hours each school day commuting to and from a distant school. Those schools were also deprived of a “neighborhood spirit” since there was little interaction after school hours between students who lived near the school, and those who were a 90-minute bus ride away. Thus the goal of having the student body reflect the community in which they lived was, by definition, impossible. There was frequently no relationship between the economic, racial, and cultural contours of the two distant neighborhoods.


The Court’s decision last Thursday does not in any way overthrow Brown v. Board of Education, as Keith Obermann bloviated, but rather corrects an ongoing practice in two communities that unfairly considered race to determine which school a student was permitted to attend. The chairman of the American Civil Rights Institute, Ward Connerly, agrees with the Court’s ruling: “You cannot use an individual’s race, and classify that person according to race, and then craft policies that take into account that person’s race… The whole pursuit of racial diversity has been a failed pursuit. It has trumped educational achievement.”


Voting with the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy left a wide opening for future integration plans, saying he would encourage any new measures that avoided racial isolation or resegregation in America’s school systems. Rather than focusing on race alone, Kennedy suggested that there are other general policies that encourage a diverse student body.


Referring to Brown v Board of Education, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote, “What was wrong in 1954 cannot be right today. The plans before us base school assignment decisions on students’ race. Because our Constitution is colorblind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens, such race-based decision making is unconstitutional.”


As expected, Republicans were for and Democrats against the Court’s action. Republican candidates Giuliani, McCain, and Romney have all made statements in the past opposing racial preferences and quotas. As mayor of New York, Giuliani did away with minority set-asides and abolished many race-based affirmative action programs, running on the slogan, “One standard, one city.” Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton was before the microphones soon after the Justices’ resolution, calling the ruling wrong and predicting an ill wind would soon be blowing over the country as a result.


Writing in The American Spectator, Jennifer Rubin summed up the Court’s action in a few well-chosen words that all can appreciate: “The Court’s ruling on its own terms reflects conservatives’ view of America as a society based on merit and individual, as opposed to group, rights. The Court’s opinion is a teachable moment for the country at large. The message is simple: the government should not treat people differently based on race.



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