Since dropping its racial tiebreaker in the face of a lawsuit by parents, Seattle’s high schools have grown dramatically less integrated. And now that the U.S. Supreme Court has issued a sweeping, 5-4 decision ruling Seattle’s racial tiebreaker unconstitutional, school districts across the nation will swiftly re-segregate.
Indeed, but for some caveats in Justice Anthony Kennedy’s concurring opinion, the Roberts Court has all but overturned the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision that led to desegregation throughout the South and the rest of the nation. Writing in dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer warns that this is a decision we will all regret.
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.
Not everyone welcomed this Court’s decision in Brown. Three years after that decision was handed down, the Governor of Arkansas ordered state militia to block the doors of a white schoolhouse so that black children could not enter. The President of the United States dispatched the 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock, Arkansas, and federal troops were needed to enforce a desegregation decree. See Cooper v. Aaron, 358 U. S. 1 (1958). Today, almost 50 years later, attitudes toward race in this Nation have changed dramatically. Many parents, white and black alike, want their children to attend schools with children of different races. Indeed, the very school districts that once spurned integration now strive for it. The long history of their efforts reveals the complexities and difficulties they have faced. And in light of those challenges, they have asked us not to take from their hands the instruments they have used to rid their schools of racial segregation, instruments that they believe are needed to overcome the problems of cities divided by race and poverty. The plurality would decline their modest request.
The plurality is wrong to do so. 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.
Seattle is gradually becoming a segregated school district. Those on the right who cheer this decision, and who cheer their success at establishing a rigidly ideological majority on the bench that has no use for the doctrine of stare decisis and no respect for the wisdom of those justices who came before them, will be held politically accountable for the consequences of their agenda. Unfortunately, politics will come four years too late to save our nation from the Roberts Court.
Republicans should beware. This is a court, that should it live up to its principles, will overturn Roe v. Wade. And that disaster would surely lead to the unraveling of the Republican Party, if not its permanent destruction.