George Will

WASHINGTON -- For most of the 53 years since the Supreme Court's school desegregation decision, the court, in collaboration with people who fancy themselves "progressive," has been instructing Americans to unlearn the lesson of those decisions -- the lesson that race must not be a source of government-conferred advantage or disadvantage. Last week the court began rectifying its abandonment of that premise in the name of "diversity."

The court ruled 5-4 that Seattle, which never had school segregation, and Louisville, which did but seven years ago completed judicially mandated remedial measures, must stop using race in assigning children to schools to produce particular racial ratios in enrollments. How did we get from this: "Distinctions by race are so evil, so arbitrary and invidious that a state bound to defend the equal protection of the laws must not invoke them in any public sphere" (the NAACP's brief, written by Thurgood Marshall, in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education desegregation case), to this: Local public education establishments routinely taking cognizance of race in assigning children to schools?

n 1978, in the Bakke case concerning racial preferences in a medical school's admissions, Justice Lewis Powell wrote that institutions of higher education have a First Amendment right -- academic freedom -- to use race as one "plus" factor when shaping their student bodies to achieve viewpoint diversity. Thus was born the "educational benefits" exception to the Constitution's guarantee of equal protection of the laws. But that hardly justifies assigning 6-year-olds to this or that school solely because of their races.

George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
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