Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1

Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1

Litigants=Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School Dist. No. 1
ArgueDate= December 4
DecideDate=June 28
FullName=Parents Involved in Community Schools, Petitioner v. Seattle School District No. 1, et al.; Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education
CitationNew=551 U.S. ___; 127 S. Ct. 2738; 75 U.S.L.W. 4577; 20 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 490
Prior=Certiorari to the United States courts of appeals for the Ninth and Sixth Circuits.
Holding=The student assignment plan of Seattle Public Schools and Jefferson County Public Schools does not meet the narrowly tailored and compelling interest requirements for a race-based assignment plan because it is used only to achieve "racial balance." Public schools may not use race as the sole determining factor for assigning students to schools. Race-conscious objectives to achieve diverse school environment may be acceptable.
Majority=Roberts (Parts I, II, III–A, III–C)
JoinMajority=Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Alito
Plurality=Roberts (III–B, IV)
JoinPlurality=Scalia, Thomas, Alito
JoinDissent2=Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg
LawsApplied=U.S. Const. amend. XIV

"Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1", 551 U.S. ___ (2007), decided together with "Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education", is a landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court that prohibited assigning students to public schools solely for the purpose of achieving racial integration and declined to recognize racial balancing as a compelling state interest. [ [ WAVE 3 TV Louisville, KY :: High court rejects JCPS student assignment plan ] ] In a fragmented opinion delivered by Chief Justice John Roberts, five justices held that the School Boards did not present any "compelling state interest" that would justify the assignment of school seats on the basis of race. Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy filed a concurrence that presented a more narrow interpretation, stating that schools may use "race conscious" means to achieve diversity in schools but that the schools at issue in this case did not use a sufficient narrow tailoring of their plans to sustain their goals. Four justices dissented from the Court's conclusions.

None of the nine Supreme Court justices disputed that, as Justice Kennedy put it, the case was "argued on the assumption...that the discrimination in question did not result from "de jure" [i.e. state-sponsored] actions." This made the case different from "Brown v. Board of Education". All of the dissenting justices acknowledged that "the Constitution does not impose a duty to desegregate upon districts," if the districts have not practiced racial discrimination. However, the dissenters argued that the Constitution permits such desegregation even though it does not require it.

Background of the case

eattle School District

The Seattle School District allowed students to apply to any high school in the District. Since certain schools often became oversubscribed when too many students chose them as their first choice, the District used a system of tiebreakers to decide which students would be admitted to the popular schools. The second most important tiebreaker was a racial factor intended to maintain racial diversity. If the racial demographics of any school's student body deviated by more than a predetermined number of percentage points from those of Seattle's total student population (approximately 41% white and 59% non-white), the racial tiebreaker went into effect. At a particular school either whites or non-whites could be favored for admission depending on which race would bring the racial balance closer to the goal. No distinction was made between various categories of non-whites; Asian-Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and African-Americans were all treated solely as "non-white" for purposes of the tiebreaker.

A non-profit group, Parents Involved in Community Schools (Parents), sued the District, arguing that the racial tiebreaker violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as well as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Washington state law. A federal District Court dismissed the suit, upholding the tiebreaker. On appeal, a three-judge panel the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed, but upon en banc rehearing the court affirmed the lower court decision.

Under the Supreme Court's precedents on racial classification in higher education, "Grutter v. Bollinger" and "Gratz v. Bollinger", race-based classifications must be directed toward a "compelling government interest" and must be "narrowly tailored" to that interest. Applying these precedents to K-12 education, the Circuit Court found that the tiebreaker scheme was not narrowly tailored. The District then petitioned for an "en banc" ruling by a panel of 11 Ninth Circuit judges. The en banc panel came to the opposite conclusion and upheld the tiebreaker. The majority ruled that the District had a compelling interest in maintaining racial diversity. Applying a test from "Grutter", the Circuit Court also ruled that the tiebreaker plan was narrowly tailored, because 1) the District did not employ quotas, 2) the District had considered race-neutral alternatives, 3) the plan caused no undue harm to races, and 4) the plan had an ending point.

Jefferson County

This case is the last of a trilogy of cases against Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) and their use of race in assigning students to schools. The first case started in 1998 when five African American high school students sued JCPS to allow them to attend Central High School, a magnet school. They were denied entrance because they were black. In 2000, Federal Judge John Heyburn, after finding that the JCPS school system did not need to be under a court-ordered desegregation policy, ruled that race could not be used for student assignment placement in the JCPS school system in regard to their magnet school programs. In 2004, he ruled the same for the traditional schools, but allowed the regular public schools to use race as the admission requirement. It is this part that went before the US Supreme Court as the other two cases were not appealed by JCPS.

JCPS is the 26th largest school district in the United States. Students are assigned to school based on the race makeup of each school, no less than 15%, no more than 50%. Race is defined as Black and “Other”. Asian, Hispanic, White, etc are classified as “Other”. Magnet and Traditional are exempt from this ratio per the 2000 and 2003 Court Order. Louisville’s population is about 58% White; 38% Black, 2% Asian, 1.3% Hispanic.

upreme Court decision

Opinion of the Court

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion of the court as to Parts I, II, III-A and III-C. After recounting the background of the plans of the two school boards, Roberts proceeded to state that strict scrutiny was necessary to analyze any racial classification that arose under the Constitution. In order to survive strict scrutiny analysis, a narrowly tailored plan must be presented in order to achieve a "compelling state interest." Prior Supreme Court cases had recognized two compelling interests for the use of race. First, to remedy the effects of past intentional discrimination. Seattle schools had never been segregated by law, therefore they could not raise that interest. Schools in Kentucky had been previously segregated by law but due to a mandated court plan the schools had achieved unitary status in 2000, therefore, the Chief Justice concluded the schools could not raise this interest either.

The second compelling state interest was recognized by the Court in "Grutter" and that is the goal of achieving a diverse student body in higher education. However, Roberts stated that this diverse body is not defined only by having a great number of racially diverse students but by also considering other factors beside race. Furthermore, the plans at issue in this case do not use race as an assessment for broader diversity, instead, they use solely race as a factor for assigning students to different schools. Therefore, this case is more similar to "Gratz", in which the Court invalidated a program that solely used race as a factor.

Finally, Roberts concluded that there are other factors besides race that can be used to achieve compelling state interest. The fact that the plans at issue in this case did not attempt to use any other of these mechanisms makes them constitutionally flawed because they are not narrowly tailored. For these reasons, both school plans were found to be unconstitutional.

Plurality opinion by Chief Justice Roberts

Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy did not join the rest of the opinion by the Chief Justice, therefore, those parts of the opinion did not command a majority. In this Plurality Opinion, Roberts wrote that the Schools at issue contend that a racially diverse environment is beneficial for education and they submit this as the reason why they consider race alone in their school assignments. However, Roberts considers that this interest is not compelling and that the use of race for this goal is not narrowly tailored, it is instead used for racial balancing, which is unconstitutional. The schools base their numbers in demographics, therefore making this goal a means to achieve a numerical quota to achieve racial balancing. Roberts concludes that racial balancing cannot be a compelling state interest.

The Chief Justice finally concludes his opinion by answering some of the issues raised by Justice Stephen Breyer in his dissent. He writes that Justice Breyer misused and misapplied previous Supreme Court precedents in this area and that he greatly exaggerates the consequences of the decision of this case. He also chastises Justice Breyer for saying that the Court silently overruled "Grutter" with this case and that the method that Breyer applies to this case is that of "the ends justify the means". Roberts concludes his opinion for the plurality by saying:

:"The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race."

Concurrence by Justice Thomas

In concurrence with the majority opinion Justice Clarence Thomas wrote about the unsettled debate concerning whether racial balance or diversity has a positive effect on educational outcomes. Justice Thomas recoils at the suggestion that black students can only learn if they are sitting next to white students. Most of the concurrence consists of social science citations and statistics showing that black students can succeed in majority black schools such as HBCUs. Justice Thomas concludes noting "If our history has taught us anything it has taught us to beware of elites bearing racial theories." In a footnote the Justice added a personal mention of Justice Breyer: “Justice Breyer’s good intentions, which I do not doubt, have the shelf life of Justice Breyer’s tenure.” [ [ New York Times June 29, 2007 article.] ]

Concurrence by Justice Kennedy

Justice Anthony Kennedy did not join parts of the opinion of Chief Justice Roberts. In cases where an opinion or parts of an opinion do not reach a majority, the narrower opinion represents the holding, so Justice Kennedy's opinion represents parts of the holding of the case. In his concurrence, Kennedy differed with the plurality because, he found, the goal of obtaining a diverse student body is a compelling state interest.

:"Diversity, depending on its meaning and definition, is a compelling educational goal a school district may pursue. "

Furthermore, Kennedy found that that race conscious mechanisms can be used by school districts to further the goal of diversity, a position rejected by the plurality. Kennedy argued that the government had an interest in ensuring racial equality: "The plurality opinion is too dismissive of the legitimate interest government has in ensuring all people have equal opportunity regardless of their race."

Finally, Kennedy wrote:

:"A compelling interest exists in avoiding racial isolation, an interest that a school district, in its discretion and expertise, may choose to pursue. Likewise, a district may consider it a compelling interest to achieve a diverse student population. Race may be one component of that diversity, but other demographic factors, plus special talents and needs, should also be considered."

Nevertheless, Kennedy found the school districts did not narrowly tailor the use of race to achieve the compelling interests in the case. Specifically, Kennedy finds that the districts could have achieved the same goal through less racially charged means.

Justice Kennedy asserts that the dissent must "brush aside two concepts of central importance" to uphold the racial classification in the case. First, Kennedy harshly faults the dissent for consciously ignoring the difference between de jure and de facto segregation. And second, Kennedy faults the dissent for ignoring the "presumptive invalidity of a State's use of racial classifications to differentiate its treatment of individuals."

Dissent by Justice Stevens

Justice John Paul Stevens wrote a sharply worded short dissent in which he accused the plurality of misusing and misapplying previous Supreme Court precedents including "Brown v. Board of Education". He concluded by saying that the current Court has greatly changed and that previously.

:" [I] t was...more faithful to "Brown" and more respectful of our precedent than it is today. It is my firm conviction that no Member of the Court that I joined in 1975 would have agreed with today's decision."

Dissent by Justice Breyer

Justice Stephen G. Breyer, in the principal dissenting opinion, dismissed Justice Kennedy's proposed alternatives to the labeling and sorting of individual students by race and, in a surprisingly emotional 20 minute speech from the bench, denounced the majority opinion. “It is not often in the law that so few have so quickly changed so much,” Justice Breyer said of the Court's decision. In the Justice's 77-page written opinion he called the ruling a "radical" step away from established law that would take from communities a critical tool used for many years in the prevention of resegregation. [ [ New York Times June 29, 2007 article.] ]

ubsequent history

The opinion came less than two months before the start of the regular school year in Jefferson County and less than three weeks before the start of year-round school in the District. At a press conference the day of the opinion, Attorney for the Plaintiff Teddy Gordon stated that he would, if necessary, seek legal measures to prevent the use of the current Student Assignment Plan for the 2007-2008 school year. When questioned about the close timing, Gordon stated that all the District had to do was "push a button" to change things over to a plan compliant with the Court's ruling.

In a separate conference, JCPS Representative Pat Todd emphasized that the current assignment plan would remain in effect for the '07-'08 school year, citing the finalization of budgets, staffing, assignments and busing as prevailing reasons for no change being logistically possible.

ee also

*"Grutter v. Bollinger"
*"Gratz v. Bollinger"
*"Regents of the University of California v. Bakke"
*"Brown v. Board of Education"
*"Mendez v. Westminster"
*"Plessy v. Ferguson"
*"Tape v. Hurley"
*"Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education"
*"Green v. County School Board"
*List of United States Supreme Court cases, volume 551


External links

* [ FindLaw presentation of opinion text]
* [ Supreme Court oral arguments]
* [ Parents v. Seattle] at Discourse DB

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