Our view: 'Left-right' still right after high court school decision

Will the United States Supreme Court ruling yesterday striking down efforts to integrate public schools kill plans to bring a demographic balance to schools in Duluth?...

Will the United States Supreme Court ruling yesterday striking down efforts to integrate public schools kill plans to bring a demographic balance to schools in Duluth?

No, and the reasons are simple.

First, a synopsis of the decision.

In what has become a predictable alignment in the court, a five-justice majority led by Chief Justice John Roberts threw out desegregation plans in Seattle and Louisville, Ky. The majority ruled that the districts should not have used race as the determining factor in school assignments, even to remedy longstanding instances of segregation.

In Louisville, the school integration effort was an attempt to reverse years of legalized separation of races before the court outlawed the practice in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.


In Seattle, the schools did not have the same history of legalized segregation as in Louisville, and race was one of many factors used in making student assignments.

Led by Roberts, four of the justices said race should never be used in determining what schools students go to, citing Brown v. Board of Education as a basis for their argument. "What was wrong in 1954 cannot be right today," Justice Clarence Thomas wrote, adding "our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens" -- a peculiar statement to make about a document that for decades tolerated a peculiar institution and defined members of a certain race and class as three-fifths a man.

The four justices on the losing side also invoked the 1954 decision, with Justice Stephen Breyer writing, "To invalidate the plans under review is to threaten the promise of Brown."

How can both sides find in the same document justification for diametrically opposed thinking? The answer is the court does it all the time, or at least every ideological shift.

In 1878, in Hall v. DeCuir, the Supreme Court upheld segregation in interstate transportation, saying under the Constitution's commerce clause, one state could not enforce its integration law over another state.

In the 1946 decision Morgan v. Virginia, the court cited the same clause to rule the opposite, overturning Jim Crow in interstate transit by saying one state could not impose a segregation law over another state. Same justification, different justices, different outcome.

And that about describes the shift in the court from 1954 to today, with the wild card being centrist Justice Anthony Kennedy. In the schools case, Kennedy sided with the Roberts camp, but wrote in his concurrence that "I disagree with [the] reasoning" that race may not be used as school assignment criteria in any circumstance.

"A district may consider it a compelling interest to achieve a diverse student population," Kennedy added.


Duluth has exactly that compelling interest -- ridding the schools of not only their racial divides, but far more their class strata that Thomas says the Constitution doesn't recognize. Purging both disparities is vital to uniting the city.

The compelling interest for the Duluth Public Schools is to adopt the "left-right" plan of two near-demographically balanced high schools, creating two schools with equal programming, unburdened by the stigma of whose parents work for whom and who lives in what part of town.

The result would be educational excellence and a united Duluth, nothing the constantly-changing-its-mind court need meddle with.

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