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Important U.S. Supreme Court Decisions: Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School DIstrict (2007)

Posted by Matt Schmidt | Jul 17, 2015 | 0 Comments

The Gist: Two school districts used race in an attempt to achieve diversity in assigning students to schools. A group of parents sued the district, arguing the use of race violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Court agreed, ruling the state could not use race as a sole determining factor to place students into schools.

The Specifics:

In order to create diversity, two school districts used a tie breaking  or ratio system to choose one qualified student over another when designating students to schools. The tiebreaker in question and ratio system were both based on race, the winning student going to the race that would bring more balance to the school. A group of parents contested the systems, arguing they violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fourteenth Amendment, which prohibits the denial "to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws". 

Under prior Supreme Court decisions, a government's actions based on race must be directed towards a compelling state interest that is narrowly tailored towards that interest. While some justices recognized a compelling state interest in student diversity, others did not. Nevertheless, the majority held that the method of achieving the interest of diversity--using race as a factor--was not narrowly tailored enough to achieve that interest, unless it was the sole way to create desegregation. Chief Justice Roberts characterized the Constitution as "color blind," holding that the use of race was unconstitutional whether it was to discriminate a minority or to create racial diversity and desegregation.

This decision has been criticized on many levels. Though the Court in Brown ruled segregation was unconstitutional, it provided no guidelines, timetables or remedies to solving the problem, instead leaving it to lower courts and local governments to figure it out on their own. Now, the Parents Involved decision essentially eliminates the most effective means of creating desegregation--race--in districts where racial isolation it is a substantial problem. This is especially true in districts where segregation once existed as a matter of law.

About the Author

Matt Schmidt

Matt graduated from the James E Rogers College of Law at the University of Arizona in passing the Arizona bar exam in 2010. Matt's primary interest in law focuses on general personal injury and insurance bad faith.

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