Excerpts from arguments in school race cases
Excerpts from Monday's Supreme Court arguments on voluntary integration programs in public schools in Seattle and Jefferson County, Ky.:
Justice Anthony Kennedy: The question is whether or not you can get into the school that you really prefer. And that in some cases depends solely on skin color. You know, it's like saying everybody can have a meal, but only people with separate skin can get the dessert.
Justice Stephen Breyer: It seems to me from what I read, that there is a terrible problem in the country. The problem is that there are lots and lots of school districts that are becoming more and more segregated in fact, and that school boards all over are struggling with this problem.
Michael Madden, lawyer for the Seattle School District: There are many areas of the law, certainly in the First Amendment and the Fourth Amendment, that have considerable flexibility.
Justice Antonin Scalia: But what about the Fourteenth? I thought that was one of the absolute restrictions, that you cannot judge and classify people on the basis of their race. ... Aren't you just denying that?
Madden: We are not urging an absolute position. We say that we indeed comply with the requirements of narrow tailoring, and that the plan therefore should be upheld.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Can you have a racial objective? That is, you want to achieve balance in the schools?
Harry Korrell, attorney for Parents Involved In Community Schools: Justice Ginsburg, our position is that that is prohibited by the Constitution absent past discrimination.
Kennedy: In Grutter we said ... "The law school's interest is not simply to assure within its student body some specified percentage of a particular group because of race. ... That would amount to outright racial balancing which is patently unconstitutional." And that seems to be what you have here.
Madden: In this case, we're not after a rigid set of numbers, and certainly not after a rigid set of numbers for their own sake. The purpose was to have schools that had become diverse through integration efforts not stray too far from the community's demographic because we're trying to prepare students to live in those communities.
Korrell: In an effort to achieve its desired racial balance in its popular high schools, the Seattle school district denied over 300 children, both white and minority children, admission to their chosen schools solely because of their race and without any individualized consideration. This strikes at the heart of the Equal Protection Clause which commands that government treat people as individuals, not simply as members of a racial class.
Attorney Teddy Gordon for white student's mother in Jefferson County, Ky.: Crystal Meredith wanted to do what most moms and dads do all across this country. She wanted to put her son's hand in hers and walk around the corner and enroll her son in school.
Attorney Francis Mellen, representing the Jefferson County Board of Education: This case presents a story of a community that once maintained racially segregated schools, that desegregated those schools only when a court ordered it, and that today maintains racially integrated schools with broad community support.
Kennedy: Does this case present the story where the meaning of Brown v. Board of Education is you can never take race out of politics?
Mellen: I think, your honor, that Brown is very much distinguishable. In Brown, the Topeka board maintained two systems of schools. ... That caused great harm to those black students and this court properly remediated it.
Scalia: And this doesn't? I mean, this which is somehow based on the notion that a school that is predominantly black or overwhelmingly black cannot be as good as a school that is predominantly white or overwhelmingly white? That doesn't send any message?
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