Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Cases on Race in Schools

Although the high court won’t hear the cases until the next term, legal experts and advocates from both sides were quick to declare that the decision would likely have a major impact on affirmative action policies in education throughout the country.

“This is going to reach into the homes and thinking of 100 percent of students,” Doug Kmiec, a Pepperdine University law professor and former Reagan administration lawyer, told the Associated Press. “This is not quite at the level of Brown v. Board, but it will be argued in the style of that case.”

In Seattle, school administrators instituted the Open Choice plan in 1998 to let parents decide which high school to send their children. If there were more applicants to a particular school than there are spaces, the district used race as a factor as a “tiebraker” to ensure that schools were “racially balanced.”

A group called Parents Involved in Community Schools sued the Seattle school district in 2000, calling the plan unfair.

The Washington state Supreme Court ruled that the plan did not violate the state’s Civil Rights Act and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ruling in a 7-4 vote, declaring that the plan was within the bounds of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

The school district suspended the plan in 2002, citing the ongoing litigation.

In 2001, the Jefferson County school district in Louisville, Ky., placed a regulation that the black student population at each school should range from 15-50 percent. To ensure this racial diversity, school administrators draw the boundaries for each school, drawing from white and black neighborhoods.

Crystal Meredith sued the school district claiming that her son was not allowed to attend his neighborhood school because he is white. A local district judge allowed the plan to continue, ruling that the racial guidelines “do not constitute a quota.” The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ruling.

Three years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the affirmative action policy at the University of Michigan Law School. The majority opinion in that case was written by Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who was replaced in January by Samuel Alito.

The court rejected the points-based plan implemented by the Michigan undergraduate admissions office on the grounds that racial quotas are unconstitutional.

Judicial experts are eagerly anticipating these cases to see how Alito and new Chief Justice John Roberts will handle the cases.