“The law, sir, is an ass.”

OK, let me try to understand the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on public school integration plans. Four justices voted that under no circumstances could a school district use race as a determining factor on what public school a child can attend. Four justices voted that school districts could use race to determine where a child goes to school, as long as race wasn’t the only factor used and the goal was to promote integrated schools. One justice voted that the two school district programs used were impermissable because race was too much of a factor in the decision of where a child would attend school, but that race could be used by school districts to determine school placement using other, less obtrusive, standards.

WTF? The instant cases were brought by white parents who were upset that within both the Louisville and Seattle school districts, white children were not always able to attend school in their residentially segregated neighborhoods.

The four uber-conservative Justices on the Supreme Court, Roberts, Scalia, Alito and Thomas, attempted to interpret Brown v. Board of Education to mean that race can never be used to determine where a child can attend school within a public school district. However, wasn’t the reason for the Brown decision the end of school segregation? So, how can you rule that a program such as Louisville’s, which attempts to avoid the resegregation of its public schools, is not in the spirit of Brown?

As the New York Times points out in its legal analysis, Justice Kennedy’s concurrent opinion is in the tradition of the late Justice Powell’s famous straddle on the Bakke case and racial quotas in college admissions. Powell’s opinion essentially became the law–quotas out, race as one factor to consider in. Is Kennedy trying to do the same thing? If so, the one thing that will occur is what Justice Breyer pointed out in dissent: more lawsuits! Ah, the majesty of the law–no matter what side they represent, the lawyers always get paid. As an unabashed Supreme Court junkie and the son of a lawyer, I still oftentimes find myself agreeing with Mr. Bumble from “Oliver Twist”: “the law, sir, is an ass.”


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