In a landmark decision that will affect school districts across the country, a deeply divided Supreme Court Thursday struck down plans in Louisville, Ky., and Seattle that assigned students to schools based partly on the color of their skin.To be honest I'm conflicted on this idea of affirmitive action. I understand the need for it, but I'm not sure if it's good policy now. I can easily say that it either needs some serious revamping or done away with entirely.
Writing for the 5-4 majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said, "The school districts have not carried their heavy burden of showing that the interest they seek to achieve justifies the extreme means they have chosen -- discriminating among individual students based on race by relying upon racial classifications in making school assignments."
But the Court falls short of saying that across the country race can never be taken into consideration.
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in a concurring opinion that "school boards may pursue the goal of bringing together students of diverse backgrounds and races through other means."
The opinion enraged civil rights leaders who had warned that such a decision would critically undermine the promise of Brown v. Board of education, the landmark 1954 decision that outlawed separate systems of education for black and white schoolchildren.
At issue were plans in school districts in Seattle and Louisville, Ky., that took race into consideration in assigning K-12 students to particular public schools.
The cases are the first major battle over race for the newly constituted Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, and they could set important guidelines for the use of racial preferences in the future.
The Louisville case was brought by Crystal Meredith, who tried to enroll her 5-year-old son in kindergarten a couple of blocks from their home in the Kentucky city. But officials pointed her elsewhere, to a school that was a 90-minute bus ride away.
A school that was closer to the family's home, officials told her, couldn't accept another white student such as her son Joshua that year.
Meredith, a single mother, wasn't looking for a fight. After driving Joshua across town to school every day, she decided she'd passed by the closer school long enough.
She sued and is now at the center of the most significant legal battle over race to reach the Supreme Court in years.
"Joshua was denied entrance to a school for no other reason than racial classification," said Teddy Gordon, Meredith's attorney. "There was room at the school. There were plenty of empty seats. This was a racial quota."
Meredith and other parents who sued the Louisville school district argued that the racial assignment plans amounted to unconstitutional race discrimination.
The school district contended that it wasn't discriminating against anyone, but was instead trying to maintain racially balanced and integrated schools for the benefit of all.
The Louisville school district adopted its plan in 2001, and it requires schools to seek a black student enrollment of at least 15 percent and no more than 50 percent.
Those guidelines apply primarily at the elementary school level and in admissions to special programs, such as magnet schools.
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