Bush Weighs In On Seattle Schools’ “Racial Balancing”

David G. Savage, Los Angeles Times, August 25, 2006

Washington—Weighing in on a case that directly affects the Seattle School District, the Bush administration has urged the Supreme Court to strike down voluntary school-integration programs that exclude some students because of their race.

Administration lawyers filed briefs this week in pending cases from Seattle and Louisville, Ky., on the side of white parents who are challenging “racial balancing” programs as unconstitutional.

The parents say the integration guidelines amount to racial discrimination and violate the Constitution’s guarantee of the equal protection of the laws. They lost in the lower courts, but the Supreme Court will hear their appeals in the fall.

In the briefs, Solicitor General Paul Clement urged the justices to rule that “the use of a racial classification to achieve a desired racial balance in public schools” is just as unconstitutional as old-fashioned racial segregation.

The Seattle Public Schools adopted integration guidelines for its 10 high schools in the 1998-99 school year. Officials said they hoped to preserve racial diversity and prevent segregation in the schools that mirrored the racially segregated housing patterns in the city.

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Briefs to be filed

Next month, lawyers for the school districts as well as civil-rights advocates will file briefs defending the integration guidelines. The justices are expected to hear oral arguments in December.

In the briefs filed this week, Clement urged the high court to resolve a lingering dispute over the meaning of the court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education. That 1954 ruling struck down racial-segregation laws that prevailed in the South and parts of the Midwest and declared that segregated schools were “inherently unequal.”

For decades afterward, school districts across the nation adopted policies to bring about integration in their classrooms: Some set guidelines that prevented schools from becoming nearly all black or all white, while others have used magnet programs that consider a student’s race. Many of those policies remain in effect.

Clement, the Bush administration’s chief lawyer before the high court, said such programs should be struck down whenever they involve the use of a “racial classification” to decide who may enroll.

“The promise of this court’s landmark Brown (decision) was to ‘effectuate a transition to a racially nondiscriminatory school system,’ “ he wrote. “The United States remains deeply committed to that objective. But once the effects of past de jure (legal) segregation have been remedied, the path forward does not involve new instances of de jure discrimination.”

His argument is likely to get a favorable hearing from Chief Justice John Roberts.

“It’s a sordid business, this divvying us up by race,” Roberts commented in June when the court ruled on a voting-rights dispute from Texas.

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