This morning the U.S. Supreme Court split 5-4 in two cases regarding the use of racial classifications to prevent segregation of public schools in Louisville, Kentucky, and Seattle, Washington. The majority ruling struck down the voluntary plans designed to increase racial balance in those school districts.
What is most striking about today’s plurality opinion by Chief Justice Roberts (joined by Alito, Thomas and Scalia) is how entirely predictable it was to those of us who vigorously protested his nomination to the Supreme Court. We repeatedly warned the U.S. Senate that Roberts’ confirmation would pose a “palpable threat to women and people of color and disenfranchised groups everywhere,” and that his “disdain for individual rights and liberties would characterize his term as chief justice, casting a long, dark shadow upon the High Court.”
But a majority of the Republican-controlled Senate, and some Democrats, voted both for Roberts and for Justice Sam Alito, based on their promises rather than their records — a mistake that should never be repeated. In voting for confirmation, senators said that “time will tell” whether Roberts had an ideological agenda for the Supreme Court. It wasn’t a long wait. Indeed, it has taken only a single term of the Court with Roberts at the helm to make clear just how little he respects precedent, and how damaging his tenure will be.
Four members of the Court — Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Souter and Stevens — strenuously agreed. In a passionate and eloquent dissent, Justice Breyer characterized today’s decision as one “that the Court and the Nation will come to regret.” Both he and Justice Stevens point out the opinion’s open disregard of the principles of stare decisis, or precedent, finding that Chief Justice Roberts “distorts precedent, misapplies the relevant constitutional principles” and “rewrites the history of one of this Court’s most important decisions.”
In the opinion’s lone saving grace, Justice Anthony Kennedy’s refusal to join the four arch-conservatives in declaring that school integration is not a “compelling state interest” leaves a door open. Although it will be more difficult and perhaps more expensive, Kennedy suggests that schools districts can use means such as selecting school sites, re-drawing attendance zones and establishing magnet schools to achieve racial integration. On behalf of the children of our country, we intend to work with elected officials to ensure that they are able to do just that.