When Crystal Meredith moved to Louisville, Ky., in August 2002, she attempted to enroll her son in the public kindergarten about a mile from her home. The local school was full. Officials assigned the boy to a school 10 miles distant. When Meredith asked whether her son could attend a different elementary school that was also 1 mile away and had space, she was informed that her son's assignment to that school would upset the "desegregation compliance" of the school. In other words, he was the wrong color.
Like Louisville, the Seattle, Wash., school board also maintained a "racial balance" policy and assigned students to popular public schools in part based upon skin color. Students received priority in applying to certain popular high schools based upon the presence of a sibling at that school and/or skin color. It was Seattle's goal to ensure that no oversubscribed public high school had fewer than 31 percent or more than 51 percent white students. Jefferson County, Ky. (Louisville's district), sought by racial placements to guarantee a black complement in each school of not less than 15 percent and not more than 50 percent.
This sort of social engineering will now end. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that achieving "diversity" is too weak an argument to justify shuffling kids around on the basis of skin color. Though Chief Justice John Roberts's opinion is couched in language of precedent and respect for existing law, this case is a clean win for individualists -- i.e., for those who oppose racial preferences or racial handicaps. Things might have gone very differently if Justice Sandra Day (prepare for 25 more years of affirmative action) O'Connor were still on the court.
Justice Breyer wrote the dissent and was joined by Justices Souter, Ginsberg and Stevens. Roberts answered the dissent in the majority opinion (a rare thing in Supreme Court opinions) and basically demolished Breyer's arguments. But Justice Thomas's separate concurrence was a tour de force.
Thomas began by distinguishing between racial imbalance, which is a fact of life based on housing patterns, and segregation, which is a state-imposed racial separation. Seattle had never engaged in de jure segregation and accordingly had nothing to remedy. Louisville had corrected its history of segregation and had been certified by a federal district court as having achieved "unitary" status, that is, no longer laboring under the cloud of past discrimination.