Supreme Court Forum Highlights Seattle Schools


The importance of the recent Supreme Court decision Parents involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District was the highlight of the annual Supreme Court Forum on Wednesday, November 28.

The case examined school district policies in Seattle and Louisville that used race as a factor in deciding where students would be placed. The Supreme Court split 5-4, ruling that the policies were unconstitutional with Justice Kennedy concurring in the result and the 4 liberal justices dissenting.

Chief Justice Roberts wrote in the opinion of the court that, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” Justice Kennedy, however, said that districts may have a compelling interest in diversity.

Contributing panelists were Martha Nussbaum, professor at Harvard Law School, Heather Gerken, a professor at Yale Law School, Honorable J. Harvie Wilkinson III, a judge for the Fourth Circuit Court who recently published a work in the Harvard Law Review, and James Ryan, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law who taught Education Law at Harvard Law School last fall.

Rather than viewing the decisions under the traditional light of race relations, Gerken took the opportunity to understand Kennedy’s concurrence as a willingness to look at the case through creative Constitutional theories.

“Kennedy says something interesting about race when he isn’t talking about race,” Gerken said. “He’s seeing a new way to address these questions in ways that haven’t typically been done.”Ryan focused his discussion on the future implications of the ruling. According to Ryan, “the decision didn’t change much on the ground.” However, he said the case “takes away hope.”

According to Ryan, the case does not align with the interests protected by Brown v. Board of Educations and the principles supported by affirmative action. “Our future depends on cooperation rather than avoiding each other. There is more to school than test scores.” Ryan said. Wilkinson said the decision may play a role in initiating a much-needed change in the direction of national policy- the end of racially divisive policies which drive racial groups apart while not addressing the social class disparity emerging within the national system.

“Race preference is divisive, toxic, and preventing us from seeing much that could be common ground,” Wilkinson said.Wilkinson said that this decision provides the opportunity to think about society’s concerns in ways which will create benefits for all members of society rather than dividing society among lines of race.

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