WASHINGTON - Pro-affirmative action demonstrators bearing "Fight For Equality" placards descended on the Supreme Court Monday as justices prepared to hear fresh arguments in cases testing when race may be used as a basis for assigning students to public schools.From a NY Times editorial:
Parents in Louisville, Ky., and Seattle are challenging school assignment plans that factor in a student's race in an effort to have individual school populations approximate the racial makeup of the entire system. Federal appeals courts have upheld both programs.
On the sidewalk in front of the Supreme Court, several hundred of pro-affirmative action demonstrators marched in a brisk wind to dramatize their issue. A parent-teachers group from Chicago and several civil rights groups were among those sponsoring the demonstration.
Demonstrators chanted "Equal education, not segregation" and "We won't go to the back of the bus, integration is a must." Some held signs that read "Stop racism now." Among the crowd were representatives of the
National Organization for Women, the NAACP and students from Howard University.
"It's ridiculous to separate us. We worked hard to get everyone together. Why separate us now?" said Jade Johnson, 15, of Washington D.C., who attends Theodore Roosevelt Senior High School in the district. Johnson said she came to the demonstration instead of going to school.
Though outnumbered, there were some in the crowd from the other side.
"Regardless of how well-motivated, allowing the state to engineer racial mixing only creates racial stereotypes and increases racial tension," said Terry Pell, president of the Center for Individual Rights, a public interest law firm. "The court needs to put an end to state-mandated tinkering with race."
The school policies in contention are designed to keep schools from segregating along the same lines as neighborhoods. In Seattle, only high school students are affected. Louisville's plan applies systemwide.
The Louisville and Seattle plans are precisely the kind of benign race-based policies that the court has long held to be constitutional. Promoting diversity in education is a compelling state interest under the equal protection clause, and these districts are using carefully considered, narrowly tailored plans to make their schools more diverse.
It is startling to see the Justice Department, which was such a strong advocate for integration in the civil rights era, urging the court to strike down the plans. Its position is at odds with so much the Bush administration claims to believe. The federal government is asking federal courts to use the Constitution to overturn educational decisions made by localities. Conservative activists should be crying “judicial activism,” but they do not seem to mind this activism with an anti-integration agenda.
If these plans are struck down, many other cities’ plans will most likely also have to be dismantled. In Brown, a unanimous court declared education critical for a child to “succeed in life” and held that equal protection does not permit it to be provided on a segregated basis. It would be tragic if the court changed directions now and began using equal protection to re-segregate the schools.