PARENTS INVOLVED IN COMMUNITY SCHOOLS v. SEATTLE SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 1
The Seattle School District allowed students to apply to any high school in the District. Since certain schools often became oversubscribed when too many students chose them as their first choice, the District used a system of tiebreakers to decide which students would be admitted to the popular schools. The second most important tiebreaker was a racial factor intended to maintain racial diversity. If the racial demographics of any school's student body deviated by more than a predetermined number of percentage points from those of Seattle's total student population (approximately 40% white and 60% non- white), the racial tiebreaker went into effect. At a particular school either whites or non-whites could be favored for admission depending on which race would bring the racial balance closer to the goal.
A non-profit group, Parents Involved in Community Schools (Parents), sued the District, arguing that the racial tiebreaker violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as well as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Washington state law. A federal District Court dismissed the suit, upholding the tiebreaker. On appeal, a three-judge panel the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed.
Under the Supreme Court's precedents on racial classification in higher education, Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger, race-based classifications must be directed toward a "compelling government interest" and must be "narrowly tailored" to that interest. Applying these precedents to K-12 education, the Circuit Court found that the tiebreaker scheme was not narrowly tailored. The District then petitioned for an "en banc" ruling by a panel of 11 Ninth Circuit judges. The en banc panel came to the opposite conclusion and upheld the tiebreaker. The majority ruled that the District had a compelling interest in maintaining racial diversity. Applying a test from Grutter, the Circuit Court also ruled that the tiebreaker plan was narrowly tailored, because 1) the District did not employ quotas, 2) the District had considered race-neutral alternatives, 3) the plan caused no undue harm to races, and 4) the plan had an ending point.
1) Do the decisions in Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger apply to public high school students?
2) Is racial diversity a compelling interest that can justify the use of race in selecting students for admission to public high schools?
3) Does a school district that normally permits a student to attend the high school of her choice violate the Equal Protection Clause by denying the student admission to her chosen school because of her race in an effort to achieve a desired racial balance?
Legal provision: Equal Protection
No, no, and yes. By a 5-4 vote, the Court applied a "strict scrutiny" framework and found the District's racial tiebreaker plan unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the plurality opinion that "The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race." The Court acknowledged that it had previously held that racial diversity can be a compelling government interest in university admissions, but it ruled that "[t]he present cases are not governed by Grutter." Unlike the cases pertaining to higher education, the District's plan involved no individualized consideration of students, and it employed a very limited notion of diversity ("white" and "non-white"). The District's goal of preventing racial imbalance did not meet the Court's standards for a constitutionally legitimate use of race: "Racial balancing is not transformed from 'patently unconstitutional' to a compelling state interest simply by relabeling it 'racial diversity.'" The plans also lacked the narrow tailoring that is necessary for race-conscious programs. The Court held that the District's tiebreaker plan was actually targeted toward demographic goals and not toward any demonstrable educational benefit from racial diversity. The District also failed to show that its objectives could not have been met with non-race-conscious means. In a separate opinion concurring in the judgment, Justice Kennedy agreed that the District's use of race was unconstitutional but stressed that public schools may sometimes consider race to ensure equal educational opportunity.
Argument of Harry J.F. Korrell
Chief Justice Roberts: We'll hear argument first today in 05-908, Parents Involved in Community Schools versus Seattle School District Number 1.
Mr. Korrell: Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court.
In an effort to achieve its desired racial balance in its popular high schools, the Seattle school district denied over 300 children, both white and minority children, admission to their chosen schools solely because of their race and without any individualized consideration.
This strikes at the heart of the Equal Protection Clause which commands that Government treat people as individuals, not simply as members of a racial class.
This fundamental equal protection principle was reiterated in Grutter and in Gratz.
The central question in this case is not, as the school district and many of its allies suggest, whether integration is important or whether desegregation is compelling.
The central question in this case is whether outside of the remedial context, diversity defined as the school district does, as a white/nonwhite racial balance, can be a compelling interest that justifies the use of race discrimination in high school admissions.
Justice Ginsburg: Mr. Korrell--
Justice Kennedy: Do you disagree in general with the Solicitor General's brief?
Do you agree in general with the brief submitted by the Government or do you have differences with it in its approach?
Mr. Korrell: Justice Kennedy, we... we agree mostly with the Solicitor General's brief.
I believe the Solicitor General might take a different position on whether race neutral mechanisms can be used to accomplish race specific purposes.
Justice Kennedy: Well, I can--
Mr. Korrell: But that's not an issue the court needs to reach in this case.
Justice Kennedy: --Well, it, it is a point that I, I'd like both him and you to discuss at some point during your argument.
If... can you use race for site selection?
When you have, you need to build a new school.
There are three sites.
One of them would be all one race.
Site two would be all the other race.
Site three would be a diversity of races.
Can the school board with, with the intent to have diversity pick site number 3?
Mr. Korrell: Justice Kennedy, I think the answer turns on the reason that the schools have the racial compositions that they do.
Justice Kennedy: It... there's... well, we can have all kinds of different hypotheticals, but there's residential housing segregation, and it wants, it wants, the board wants to have diversity.
Mr. Korrell: Your Honor, our position is that if, if the resulting... if the racial composition of those schools is not the result of past de jure segregation--
Justice Kennedy: No.
It is a new school.
It's a new school.
Mr. Korrell: --In that case, Your Honor, Parents' position is that the Government can't be in the position of deciding what the right racial mix is.
Justice Kennedy: So it'd have to take the three sites, all of them in the hypothetical, all of them equal, and just flip a coin, because otherwise it would be using a--
Mr. Korrell: Your Honor, obviously it is not the facts of the Seattle case.
In the hypothetical Your Honor posits, perhaps the right analogy is something similar to the, a redistricting cases.
Where a court could look at see whether the racial motive was a predominant factor as opposed to--
Justice Kennedy: --No, no.
The school board says we want, right up front, we want racial diversity in our new schools.
Illicit under the Fourteenth Amendment in your case?
Mr. Korrell: --Your Honor, school districts can do many, many things through race neutral means that they could not do with race discrimination.
Justice Ginsburg: --But can they have a race conscious objective?
I think that that's the question that Justice Kennedy is asking you, and I don't get a clear answer.
You say you can't use a racial means.
But can you have a racial objective?
That is, you want to achieve balance in the schools.
Mr. Korrell: Justice Ginsburg, our position is that that is prohibited by the Constitution absent past discrimination.
Justice Scalia: You would object, then, to magnet schools?
You would object to any system that is designed to try to cause people voluntarily to go into a system that is more racially mixed?
Mr. Korrell: Justice Scalia, our objection to the Seattle program is that it is not a race neutral means.
Justice Scalia: No, I understand.
But I'm trying to find what, you know, the outer limits of your contentions are.
It doesn't seem to me that your briefs indicated that you would object to something like magnet schools.
The... even if one of the purposes of those schools is to try to cause more white students to go to schools that are predominantly nonwhite.
It's just voluntary, I mean, but the object is to achieve a greater racial mix.
Mr. Korrell: Your Honor, we object to the... if that's the sole goal of a school district absent past discrimination, we object.
But that kind of hypothetical situation isn't even necessary for the Court to reach.
Justice Scalia: I understand.
Justice Kennedy: Well, it may not be necessary for you but it might be necessary for us when we write the case.
We're not writing just on a very fact specific issue.
Of course, the followup question, and the Solicitor General can address it too, is this, Assuming some race conscious measures are permissible to have diversity, isn't it odd to say you can't use race as a means?
I mean, that's the next question.
That may, in fact, be why you give the... seem to give the answer that you do.
You just don't want to embrace that contradiction.
Mr. Korrell: Your Honor, it is certainly difficult if race... if racial balance can be a goal of government, then it is more difficult to defend a racial balancing plan as unconstitutional, or to attack one as constitutional.
Justice Kennedy: That is true.
Mr. Korrell: And this Court has said repeatedly that racial balancing is unconstitutional.
Justice Souter: Well, we have said it repeatedly in contexts different from this.
I mean, the paradigm context in which we made remarks to that effect, stated that, are in affirmative action cases.
The point of the affirmative action case is that some criterion which otherwise would be the appropriate criterion of selection is being displaced by a racial mix criterion.
That is not what is happening here.
This is not an affirmative action case.
So why should the statements that have been made in these entirely different contexts necessarily decide this case?
Mr. Korrell: Justice Souter, we disagree that the analysis in the Grutter and Gratz cases is entirely different from the analysis in this case.
Justice Ginsburg: But you have to agree that those cases left someone out of the picture entirely so we were talking about a selection of one person or another?
The word "sorting" has been used in this context because everybody gets to go to school.
Indeed, they are required to go to school.
So no one gets left out of the system, and I think there have been Court of Appeals judges who have noted.
We have never had that case before, it's not like the affirmative action cases.
Mr. Korrell: Your Honor, I agree that this Court has not had a case like this before.
I disagree, however, that it's not like the Grutter or the Gratz decision.
The plaintiff in Gratz, as the Court undoubtedly is aware, attended the University of Michigan at Dearborn.
He got into a school.
He didn't get into the school that he wanted to go to.
Similarly, in our case, with the plaintiffs, they wanted to go to their preferred schools, schools that the school district acknowledges provided different educational opportunities, produced different educational outcomes, and they were preferable to the parents and children who wanted to go.
Justice Scalia: Why do you agree that this is not an affirmative action case?
Is it not?
Wherein does it differ?
I thought that the school district was selecting some people because they wanted a certain racial mix in the schools, and were taking the affirmative action of giving a preference to students of a certain race.
Why isn't... why doesn't that qualify as affirmative action?
Mr. Korrell: If that's what affirmative action is, Your Honor, then--
Justice Scalia: Well, I don't know what else it is.
What do you think it is that causes you to seemingly accept the characterization that this is not it?
Mr. Korrell: --Your Honor, perhaps I misspoke.
I didn't mean to accept the characterization that this case is not at all--
Justice Souter: Let me help you out by taking you back to my question.
One of the characteristics of the affirmative action cases was the displacement of some other otherwise generally acknowledged relevant criterion such as ability as shown in test scores, grade point averages, things like that; and that was a characteristic of those cases.
It is not a characteristic of this case, as I understand it.
Mr. Korrell: --I'm not sure that's exactly right, Your Honor.
In this case, the school district admitted in the response to request for admissions that had the identified children been of a different race, they would have been admitted into the schools.
Justice Scalia: I thought there was a criterion here, and that is, you can go to whatever school you want.
You are allowed to go to a certain choice of school.
The criterion was your choice.
Mr. Korrell: Justice Scalia, you're right.
And there's another criterion which I think is getting to Justice--
Justice Souter: Well, when you state Justice Scalia is right, you are assuming, I think as your brief assumes, that the definition of the benefit to be received here is the active choice, not the provision of an education.
Now the active choice may be of value.
I do not suggest that it is not.
Clearly the school district thinks it does or it wouldn't provide choice.
But it is not the entire benefit that is being provided, and the principal benefit is the education, not the choice of schools.
Isn't that correct?
Mr. Korrell: --Your Honor, they are both benefits.
I would point Your Honor back to this Court's decision in Gratz, where the same analysis would apply.
And if Your Honor's analysis is correct, that would mean, I think, that the Gratz case would have been decided differently.
Justice Breyer: But I think that the point that Justice Souter is trying to make, as I understand it, is of course there is a similarity with Gratz, people choose, but there's a big difference.
The similarity in Grutter, or the difference in Grutter and Gratz is that you had a prize, a school that was supposed to be better than others, that the members of that school, the faculty and the administration tried to make it better than others.
It was an elite merit selection academy.
And if you put the black person in, the white person can't get the benefit of that.
Here we have no merit selection system.
Merit is not an issue.
The object of the people who run this place is not to create a school better than others, it is to equalize the schools.
That's in principle and in practice, if you look at the numbers, you see that the six schools that were at the top, their position would shift radically from year to year, preferences was about equal among them.
They have the same curriculum, they have similar faculties, and I don't think anyone can say either in theory or in practice, that one of these schools happened to be like that prize of University of Michigan, a merit selection system.
That, I think, was a major difference that he was getting at, why is this not the same kind of thing?
That was at issue in Grutter and Gratz.
Now what is your response to that?
Mr. Korrell: Your Honor, we have several responses.
The first is that the premise of Your Honor's question is that the schools are in essence fungible for purposes of providing a high school education.
And I would direct Your Honor to the District Court judge's decision, there is a footnote in the decision in which she acknowledged that the schools were not of equal quality, that they provided different levels of education.
Justice Scalia: Of course they're not.
That's why some of them were oversubscribed.
That's why others were undersubscribed.
Justice Breyer: I didn't say that they were.
What I said was that the object of the school board and the administering authority was to make them roughly equal.
I said that in terms of curriculum and faculty, they're about roughly equal.
And in terms of choice, what you see is a wide variation in choice by those who want to go as to which is their preference among six schools over a period of five years.
And that suggests a rough effort to create the equality, not an effort as in Michigan, to run a merit selection system.
Mr. Korrell: I agree with Your Honor that there's not a merit selection system in--
Justice Breyer: Fine.
Now the question is, why doesn't that fact that this is not a merit selection system but a different kind of thing, a sorting system or a system designed to maintain a degree of integration, why doesn't that difference make a difference?
Mr. Korrell: --Your Honor, because I think that the fundamental command of the Equal Protection Clause is that government treats citizens as individuals, not as members of a racial group.
And that command I don't think is suspended because of the nature of a school's admissions process.
That right is still possessed by the individual students, and if a student is entitled to be treated as an individual as opposed to a member of a racial group at a university level, it's Parents' position they are entitled to that same protection at the high school level.
Justice Ginsburg: Mr. Korrell, before your time runs out, I did want to clarify something about the standing of the plaintiffs here.
Do I understand correctly that none of the parents who originally brought this lawsuit have children who are now preninth grade, but that newcomers, people who recently joined, do have children of preninth grade age?
Mr. Korrell: Your Honor, that is mostly correct.
There is also a family that joined the parents association back in 2000 that has a child in seventh grade, that will be approaching high school by the time this Court decides the case.
Chief Justice Roberts: But the lawsuit was originally brought by a corporate entity, correct?
Mr. Korrell: That's correct, Your Honor.
Chief Justice Roberts: Not by individual parents.
Mr. Korrell: That's correct.
Justice Ginsburg: But you don't dispute that membership, for standing purposes, the membership is what counts, not the association but the members?
Mr. Korrell: Your Honor, my understanding of the Court's jurisprudence on associational standing is as long as a member of the association has standing, then the association has it.
We submit that that has been established by the complaint, the interrogatory responses, and--
Justice Ginsburg: Well, if it is a member, jurisdictional questions generally, don't we go by what the membership was when the complaint was filed and not what it has become in the course of the litigation?
Mr. Korrell: --I don't think that's right, Your Honor.
We cited to the Court the Pannell case, the Associated General Contractors case, and Roe versus Wade, all of which look at postfiling factors to--
Justice Ginsburg: Yes, but the transaction case situation is different.
Mr. Korrell: --You're right, Your Honor, none of those were class action cases.
Pannell and Associated General Contractors were association cases much like this one.
Roe, of course, was individual plaintiffs.
Justice Stevens: May I ask this one brief question if I could.
Does the record tell us, the 300 people who have failed to get into the schools they wanted, the racial composition of that group?
Mr. Korrell: It does, Justice Stevens.
The record shows that 100, roughly 100 students who were denied admission to their preferred schools were nonwhite and roughly 200 who were denied admission were white students.
If there are no further questions, Mr. Chief Justice, I would like to reserve my time.
Argument of Paul D. Clement
Chief Justice Roberts: Thank you, counsel.
Mr. Clement: Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court--
Respondents assert an interest in addressing the most racially isolated schools in the district, yet their plan does not address the two most racially concentrated high schools in their district.
They likewise have certain interests in diversity, yet their plan does not directly address diversity other than pure racial diversity, and they do nothing to assemble the kind of critical mass that was at issue in the Grutter case.
In fact, if you look at the program and how it operates in practice, the triggering critical mass for the use of the racial tie breaker is when a student... when a school has less than 25 percent white students or when it has less than 45 percent nonwhite students.
There is nothing in the record or in social science that suggests that there's a radical difference in the critical mass based on the race of the students.
Of course what explains that difference in the triggering critical mass of white students versus nonwhite students, the answer to that does not lie in educational theory, the answer lies in the demographics of the district.
The district happens to have 20 percent more nonwhite students than white students, so they trigger the race tie breaker at a different point under those circumstances.
With all respect to respondents, the answer to how this program works lies not in diversity but in demographics.
They are clearly working backwards from the overall demographics of the school district rather than working forward to any clearly articulated pedagogical goal.
Chief Justice Roberts: Counsel, if I could get back to Justice Kennedy's question earlier, how do you distinguish decisions like citing magnet schools, clustering, from the consideration of race in this case?
Mr. Clement: Well, Mr. Chief Justice, I think that those decisions are different primarily because the resulting decision is not a racial classification.
And if you think about it, when you had an overt racial classification, like you clearly do in these cases, then you naturally ask the strict scrutiny questions and look for a compelling interest.
If instead you start with a race neutral government action that doesn't classify people directly based on race, then I suppose you could try to do some kind of Arlington Heights Washington Davis type analysis.
Justice Kennedy: Well, what would you do with strategic site selection in order to create racial diversity?
Mr. Clement: Well, Justice Kennedy, I think--
Justice Kennedy: I mean, that's the expressed and principal purpose.
You know the hypothetical.
Mr. Clement: --Okay.
And Justice Kennedy, I will answer the hypo, but let me just say it's easy for purposes of the hypo to say the sole reason was for race.
In the real world, in fact I can't imagine that a site decision won't be based at least in part on concerns about the overall educational benefits.
And I think that's important.
The reason I start with that preface is because when you have mixed motives and a variety of factors I think you'd be unlikely to strike down that kind of motive.
Justice Stevens: Are you suggesting there was no consideration of overall educational benefits in this plan?
Mr. Clement: No, Justice Stevens.
I'm saying that you basically start at a different departure point when you have an express racial classification.
I think I'm trying to answer Justice Kennedy's question about what if you have a sort of a race conscious goal at some level and that's why you select a particular site or you decide that you're going to invest in magnet schools and want to put a magnet school in a particular school district.
My humble point is simply that in the real world I think you're unlikely to have the pure racial motive type objective.
I would say that--
Justice Ginsburg: Suppose it was faculty, and the school district makes a deliberate effort to have members of the white race and members of other races represented in... on the faculty of every school, so you won't have one school with all white teachers, so that you'll have a mix, and that's quite explicit.
That's their objective and they're using a racial criterion to get there.
Would that be impermissible, to have a mix of teachers in all the schools?
Mr. Clement: --Well, Justice Ginsburg, I think if what they wanted to do is have an mix of teachers that might be okay.
If they're going to start assigning teachers to particular schools and have sort of racial quotas for the faculty at various schools, I think that crosses a line.
Justice Ginsburg: Well, what would be okay?
How would you get there other than having... the point I'm trying to make has been made by others.
Let me read from Judge Boudin's decision.
"The choice is between openly using race as a criterion or concealing it through some clumsy or proxy device. "
If you want to have an integrated school and you site the schools deliberately to achieve that objective, it's very hard for me to see how you can have a racial objective but a nonracial means to get there.
Mr. Clement: Well, with respect, Justice Ginsburg, I think there's a fundamental difference between how the same intent with two programs, there's a fundamental difference if one of them necessarily classifies people on the basis of their skin color and the other does not.
Justice Scalia: General Clement, is there anything unconstitutional about desiring a mingling of the races and establishing policies which achieve that result but which do not single out individuals and disqualify them for certain things because of their race?
Is there anything wrong with a policy of wanting to have racial mix?
Mr. Clement: Justice Scalia, we would take the position that there's not and that there's a fundamental difference between whether or not the policy manages to avoid classifying people on the basis of their race.
Justice Kennedy: At page 7 of your brief you say
"School districts have an unquestioned interest in reducing minority isolation. "
If I put a period in there, then I would get to my strategic site selection, and I still haven't got your answer on that.
You don't put a period there.
"have an unquestioned interest in reducing minority isolation through race neutral means. "
And this brings up this same question Justice Ginsburg had.
Isn't it odd jurisprudence where we have an objective that we state in one set of terms but a means for achieving it in another set of terms, unless your answer is that individual classification by race is, is impermissible, but other, more broad measures based on, with a racial purpose are all right?
Mr. Clement: I think that's ultimately the answer, Justice Kennedy, which is there's a fundamental difference between classifying people and having the real world effect.
I mean, in this case don't forget that there were 89 minority students that wanted to attend Franklin High School.
They could not solely because of their race.
At the same time, every white student who applied to Franklin High School was allowed in solely based on their race.
Justice Kennedy: And what is the answer to my strategic site selection hypothetical?
Mr. Clement: We would say that's fine.
We would say that that is permissible, for the school to pursue that.
Just to get back, though, again, we say that that avoiding racial isolation is... I just want to make the point, we say that racial isolation is an important government interest.
I think if you put this plan up against that objective, it sorely fails, because there are two high schools that I think you would look at as being racially isolated.
They're Cleveland and Rainier Beach, and this plan does nothing to directly address those high schools.
Justice Souter: My question is really Judge Boudin's question.
You are in effect saying that by siting the school they can achieve exactly the objective they are seeking here.
It's a question of do the... the question comes down to whether they can do it candidly or do it by clumsier means.
That is, it seems to me, an unacceptable basis to draw a constitutional line.
Mr. Clement: With respect, Justice Souter, first of all I think the kind of interests we're talking about, avoiding racial isolation and the like, do not lend themselves to absolutely targeted, it has to be 15 percent, it has to be 50, it has to be 25, it has to be 45.
I would actually suggest that the danger is in the opposite direction.
Justice Souter: That isn't what they said here.
I mean, they were dealing with a zone within which they operated, and it was only when the numbers got to the outer limits that they said, okay, we're going to use a racial criterion to prevent anything more, any more extreme disparity.
Mr. Clement: Well, I mean, in the second stage--
Justice Souter: That's what they do when they site the school.
They said, you know, we'll get a rough whatever it is, 40-60 mix.
Mr. Clement: --Well, I think in the second case you'll see that, you know, the same logic that leads to this leads itself to stricter bands.
But let me say, I would have thought the analysis would run the exact opposite way, and I would think that if you got to the point, which the Ninth Circuit did on page 58-A of its opinion, where it says, you know, with this objective that we've allowed, the most narrowly tailored way to get there is to expressly use race.
I would have thought that might have suggested there was something wrong with the compelling interest, if that's the way--
Justice Breyer: While you're talking about the way, let me ask a practical question.
35 years ago in Swann, this Court said that a school board, particularly an elected one... it didn't say that...
"could well conclude that to prepare students to live in a pluralistic society each school should have a prescribed ratio of Negro to white students reflecting the proportion of the district as a whole. "
Far more radical than anything that's at issue here.
Then it adds
"To do this as an educational policy is within the broad discretionary powers of school authorities. "
That's what this Court said 35 years ago.
Thousands of school districts across the country, we're told, have relied on that statement in an opinion to try to bring about a degree of integration.
You can answer this in the next case if you want.
So think about it.
Chief Justice Roberts: You can answer in this case, General.
Justice Breyer: My question, of course, is simply this.
When you have thousands of school districts relying on this to get a degree of integration in the United States of America, what are you telling this Court is going to happen when we start suddenly making... departing from the case?
Do you want us to overrule it?
Chief Justice Roberts: General?
Mr. Clement: --If I could answer the question, I think that the fact that you point to the specific language of Swann is helpful, because the Court there in dictum... I think everybody would agree that was dictum... said that you could achieve a prescribed ratio.
And that's exactly where the logic of the other side, of the Ninth Circuit, of Judge Boudin, with all respect, that's where it takes you.
And I think anybody that relied on that language in the wake of cases like Crosson, in the wake of Freeman against Pitts, that said achieving a racial balance for its own sake is not constitutional, and Bakke and Grutter against Gratz, that all said that racial balancing is verboten, I think those school districts would have been misguided in relying on that language.
Argument of Michael F. Madden
Chief Justice Roberts: Thank you, General.
Mr. Madden: Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court When Seattle was last before this Court you struck down a State law that prevented bussing for integration purposes because that law prevented the school board from seeking to provide the educational benefits of integrated schools.
At that time you said it was clear enough that all children benefit from exposure to ethnic and racial diversity in the classroom by preparing them for citizenship in our pluralistic society and teaching them to live in harmony and mutual respect.
Justice Scalia: Mr. Madden, that's certainly an admirable goal.
Could a local unit, a municipality, or even a State have another goal?
Let's say what used to be great about the United States was the presence of various ethnic groups.
I mean, there were the Pennsylvania Dutch, there were the Amish, there were Little Italys, there were Chinatowns, and these things are beginning to disappear.
And we think that we should encourage the continuation of that diversity, as the Federal Government has done with respect to American Indian tribes.
And therefore, we're going to use public funds for such things as street festivals, a Chinatown street festival, an Italian street festival.
We're going to encourage those organizations that maintain that separateness.
Is there anything unconstitutional about that objective?
Mr. Madden: Providing funding for street festivals?
Justice Scalia: About the objective?
I mean, think we should foster separateness?
Is there anything wrong--
Mr. Madden: I think that in the context that you've described it that would be constitutionally very problematic.
Justice Scalia: --Fine... it would be problematic?
Mr. Madden: Yes.
Justice Scalia: Why?
Mr. Madden: Because I can conceive that it's not... unlike education, where the goal is to educate the entire community and to help to prepare the community, the students to live in that community, it's not a traditional role of government--
Justice Kennedy: Well then, let me change Justice--
Justice Scalia: Please let me finish the line of questioning.
Assume with me that it is not an unconstitutional objective, which I am sure it's not.
Could the... could the government achieve that objective by barring people from moving into Little Italy or giving a preference to some people to buy real estate in Little Italy if they are of Italian ancestry?
Could it do that?
Absolutely not, right?
Mr. Madden: --I would agree with you.
Justice Scalia: So it would appear that even if the objective is okay, you cannot achieve it by any means whatever.
And the mere fact that the objective of achieving a diverse balanced society is perfectly all right, although certainly not the only objective in the world.
The mere fact that it's okay doesn't mean you can achieve it by any means whatever?
Mr. Madden: I would submit that there's a fundamental difference between the circumstances you've described and a school system which takes all comers and is tasked to educate them by preparing them to live in a pluralistic society.
Justice Kennedy: --Well, my slight modification of Justice Scalia's hypothetical... and it proceeds on the same theory... is suppose there's a huge demand for housing.
A developer has a plan to build 500 units.
Can the city say, we'll grant you the permit on the ground, on the condition that 30 percent of all the houses go to minorities?
That means people will live together.
Then we can have a school, a school that can be diverse.
Mr. Madden: I would say not, because housing decisions are inherently private, unlike public education.
And there's no way to know how those benefits are being distributed, if they're going to be comparable.
I would say no, it is not comparable to the schools.
Justice Kennedy: Well, your system is the one that gives a choice to the individuals.
Mr. Madden: It does, and when there are more choices than there are seats available.
Chief Justice Roberts: Does that make a difference?
What if you adopted a plan that insisted on a more or less rigid 60-40 ratio at every school and assignments were made on that basis.
It was not a follow on to a choice system.
Mr. Madden: Well, I think--
Chief Justice Roberts: Would that be unconstitutional?
Mr. Madden: --Excuse me, Mr. Chief Justice.
I'm sorry to interrupt.
I think in each circumstance it depends on the status of the school system.
Chief Justice Roberts: The same... the facts are otherwise the same, except you conclude that private choice contributes to further division rather than integration and so the assignments are made on a 60-40 basis.
Mr. Madden: I think that is roughly the circumstance that existed in the first Seattle case, Mr. Chief Justice.
And additionally, I think that you then have to move into the realm of what's constitutionally permissible and can in a constitutionally permissible use of race a school system accommodate other values like choice and neighborhood ties and family connections to the school system.
Chief Justice Roberts: I still don't have your answer.
Is strict assignment 60-40 without regard to choice constitutional or not?
Mr. Madden: I... I would want to know more about the system because I think strictly if there's nothing else and there's no flexibility, I think it presents narrow tailoring problems.
Chief Justice Roberts: And how does this not present narrow tailoring problems if... if the... when you get to the fact of choice, the sole criteria at that level is the same as would be the case in a 60-40 assignment.
Mr. Madden: Well, we have accommodated choice to the extent there are seats available.
And then we go to family connections.
And then we... in operation, admit everyone who lives close to the school.
And then as to those that live further away, we look to see what's the school's racial demographic.
Is it significantly different than the community's?
These schools we have talked about have been the objects of significantly more aggressive integration efforts, and the board wanted to preserve those.
Chief Justice Roberts: One of the, one of the factors our prior cases looked to was whether the plan has a logical end point.
What is the logical end point in this plan?
Mr. Madden: Well, the board actually at every turn reflected in the record discussed whether it was necessary to continue the use of race, whether to narrow it, and eventually to end it.
And I think it is in the joint appendix at 408, the superintendent's testimony of the, simultaneously the measures that the board was implementing in terms of resource allocation, implementation of new programs, because they realized that by diversifying choice, they could hopefully achieve some of these same ends, not as quickly, not as efficiently, but that they could achieve them.
That's been indeed the entire trajectory of Seattle's integration efforts since the first Seattle plan.
Justice Kennedy: But in Grutter we said, to shorten it just a little bit, at page 329-330 of the--
U.S. Reports, 539,
"the law school's interest is not simply to assure within its student body some specified percentage of a particular group because of race. "
"that would amount to outright racial balancing which is patently unconstitutional. "
And that seems to be what you have here.
Mr. Madden: I think that the term racial balancing has two significant meanings.
One is a plan that does not foster a compelling interest.
And second, a plan that is too rigid, a quota, for instance, that might not pass narrow tailoring given the context.
In this case we're not after a rigid set of numbers, and certainly not after a rigid set of numbers for their own sake.
The purpose was to have schools that had become diverse through integration efforts not stray too far from the community's demographic because we're trying to prepare students to live in those communities.
Justice Kennedy: The problem is that unlike strategic siting, magnet schools, special resources, special programs in some schools, you're characterizing each student by reason of the color of his or her skin.
That is quite a different means.
And it seems to me that that should only be, if ever allowed, allowed as a last resort.
Mr. Madden: The board here was trying to distribute, sort out seats that were available at these popular schools; and so it devised a system whereby every student had the opportunity to be assigned to at least one of those popular schools; and as far as the record shows in plaintiffs' briefing, there's no material differences between those... those popular schools.
Justice Scalia: Do you have quotas for, for racial hiring of your faculty in these schools?
Mr. Madden: No.
Justice Scalia: Why not?
Mr. Madden: I don't think the board has ever found that necessary to, to achieve diversity in the faculty.
Justice Breyer: Justice Kennedy's question, I think, was is this basically a kind of last resort?
Or how close to a last resort is it?
What's the history of this?
I thought the history involved a lawsuit to desegregate the schools, a much more rigid system of racial... abuse of race.
Ultimately you come to this.
Now you stop this.
And what happened after you stopped it?
Mr. Madden: What happened is that, that it--
Justice Breyer: Well, what is the history basically?
Am I right?
Mr. Madden: --The history is that the board had both narrowed the use of the integration tie breaker in '99 and 2000 and then continued it for the 2001 school year.
We were... in 2000-2001 school year, we were enjoined in 2001 to use it in that year, which was considerably disruptive.
But the board was also, the measures that it had implemented, implementing magnet schools at Rainier Beach and Chief South high schools in the South End, implementing it in--
Justice Breyer: But that's not what I'm thinking.
Mr. Madden: --I'm sorry.
Justice Breyer: I mean I'm thinking that, I thought as I read this, and you have to correct me because you have a better knowledge, originally the schools were highly segregated in fact.
People brought a lawsuit.
Then to stop that Seattle engaged in a plan that really bused people around on the basis of race.
That led to white flight.
That was bad for the schools.
They then tried a voluntary choice plan.
This is part of that plan.
Then when they abandon this plan, they discover more segregation.
Is that basically right or not?
Mr. Madden: When, when this plan has... this... the description is yes, basically right.
When this plan was suspended in, after the Court of Appeals enjoined it, the board had, as I said, experienced some considerable disruption in the assignments because of the timing of the injunction.
But the board was also looking at the effect of the race neutral, if you will, program measures that it had implemented.
Such that now, Ingram high school in the north end of Seattle is much more popular.
Nathan Hale is no longer over subscribed.
There's less demand for Ballard, but there have been--
Justice Alito: Do you think your, do you think your schools as they are operated now are segregated?
Mr. Madden: --We have some change of conditions, but the basic conditions remain, the trend has not been positive.
For example, and I think that the petitioner picked--
Justice Scalia: To say segregated, segregated... you refer to some of the schools as segregated.
And I, that's not what I understand by segregated.
Mr. Madden: --Not, not in the sense--
Justice Scalia: I mean, you know, if you belong to a country club that, that... that has 15 percent black members, I would not consider that a segregated country club.
So what you are complaining about is, is not segregation in any, in any reasonable sense of the word.
You're complaining about a lack of racial balance.
Mr. Madden: --We are not complaining about segregation resulting from purposeful discrimination.
Justice Scalia: That's the only meaning of segregation.
Mr. Madden: --I--
Justice Scalia: You're talking about racial balance.
Mr. Madden: --Talking about schools that are on the one end racially isolated.
The Solicitor General mentioned two of those.
And talking on the other end about preserving the diversity that we had achieved through these years of effort in these north end schools.
Justice Scalia: Well, I think you're also--
Justice Kennedy: Justice Alito and Justice Breyer and I myself am interested Can you tell us what has happened since the plan's been enjoined?
Mr. Madden: Yes.
Justice Kennedy: I mean, have you gone back to square one?
And it's just, there's no diversity at all?
Or is there substantially more diversity?
Can you tell us about that?
Because it's important.
It may mean that you don't need to identify students by the color of their skin in assignment.
Mr. Madden: It, it may mean the board confronted with the circumstances might well make that decision independent of this litigation.
But let me answer the specific.
Let's take Franklin High School to begin with.
In, in 2000, that school was... had 25 percent white enrollment.
In 2005, it had 10 percent white enrollment.
In the ninth grade, which is really the, the level at which we see the effect of the integration tie breaker, in 2000, the white enrollment was 21 percent; it was 8 percent in 2005.
Go to Ballard High School on the other end.
Ballard was 56 percent white students in 2000; it's 62 percent in 2005.
The ninth grade class has moved from 46 percent white students to 58 percent white students.
Keeping in mind that that school is now significantly less popular than it was, I think those effects would probably be, be more extreme.
But the plan... I want to emphasize, the plan was to try to disperse demand and to foster choices that would result in diversity, not to compel it.
We do not--
Justice Alito: How do, how do you square your objective of achieving racial balance with your disinterest in the situation at Cleveland and Rainier Beach?
Those are the most unbalanced schools under your definition, and yet those are not affected at all by this plan.
Why, why are you not concerned about that?
Rebuttal of Paul D. Clement
Mr. Clement: Well, they are affected by the plan in this in this way, that in the past the district had used mandatory measures, busing students across town, to try to integrate those schools.
And the board decided after many years of effort that it would no longer do that, but it was also of the firm conviction that it would allow students who wanted the opportunity to opt out of those schools to do so.
At the same time, it implemented magnet schools at Rainier Beach, there's a new building under construction at Cleveland.
Justice Alito: Are the students who are attending those schools getting the benefits of attending a school that's racially balanced?
And if they're not, why are you not concerned about that, if that's an important objective of your program?
Rebuttal of Michael F. Madden
Mr. Madden: --We, we are concerned about improving the quality of education in all the schools.
We do not mandate that a student attend a school for integration purposes as we once did.
Justice Souter: Why?
Mr. Madden: Because it, it's important to the credibility and functionality of the school system to have a system that is accepted by the public, by our constituents.
And so people like choice; they also like neighborhood schools; they also like diverse schools.
And the board recognized when it set about to develop this plan that accommodating all of those values would require some trade offs.
And the board, familiar with the local conditions, familiar with the history, did just that in what I submit was a narrowly tailored and appropriate way.
Justice Stevens: May I go back to the Cleveland school that Justice Alito mentioned?
An I correct that there were 16 percent whites under the plan?
And I'm just wondering what happened to it during the last couple of years?
Mr. Madden: Cleveland is now about 8 percent.
Justice Stevens: And it was... about half as many whites as there were under the plan.
Mr. Madden: I don't remember the precise number in 2000, but that sounds about right.
Justice Ginsburg: Mr. Madden, there was a question raised about your categories, that is, you have white and then everything else.
And it was suggested that if you are looking for diversity, what was... the schools that you just mentioned had a large percentage of Asian Americans, but they don't count.
What is your response to that?
Mr. Madden: Well, the... the problem that the board was addressing was principally a, a problem of the distribution of white and nonwhite students.
The... as a generality, 75 percent of all nonwhite students in the district lived in South Seattle.
And that was true for all the ethnic groups except Native Americans, who are a very small--
Justice Alito: Why is that a problem?
Suppose you have a school in which 60 percent of the students are either of Asian ancestry or Latino ancestry, and 40 percent are white as you classify people.
And there are no African American students at all.
You would consider that to be a racially balanced school, would you not?
Mr. Madden: --I would say if that circumstance occurred, that that would be something that the board would have to pay attention to and consider.
But the fact of the matter is that--
Chief Justice Roberts: Nothing under the plan requires that, does it?
Mr. Madden: --No, because the numbers in terms of the distribution of ethnic groups, separate ethnic groups and the benefits or impacts of the plan were spread proportionately--
Justice Alito: And what is the theory behind that?
Is, the theory is it that the white students there or the Asian students or the Latino students would not benefit from having African American classmates?
It is enough if they have either Asian classmates or Latino classmates or white classmates?
How do you... how do square that with your, your objective of providing benefits that flow from racial balance?
Mr. Madden: --I may, I may have confused the answer to the hypothetical with the, with rationale on the ground, which was that we did not have that kind of single minority ethnic group disparity existing in any school.
I was saying, however, that if that existed, I think that would be something the board would have to be mindful of.
As a practical matter, because our nonwhite ethnic neighborhoods in South Seattle are themselves quite integrated, that the movement under this plan did not produce disparities for or against any particular ethnic group.
And so I think in the end it might have been more divisive to have individual tiebreakers for the separate minority ethnic groups.
Justice Scalia: --What criteria of race does the school, just out of curiosity, does the school district use?
I mean, what if a particular child's grandfather was white?
Would he qualify as a white or nonwhite.
Mr. Madden: I would say... well, the answer is--
Justice Scalia: I mean, there must be some criterion.
There are many people of mixed blood.
Mr. Madden: --The district has no criteria itself.
The district uses classifications that are developed by the Federal Government but allows parents to self identify children.
Justice Scalia: It allows parents to say--
I'm white, no matter what?
Mr. Madden: That allows the parents to self identify, and the record in this case through the testimony of petitioner's president is they were aware of no abuse of that.
Justice Scalia: Seems like a big loophole.
Mr. Madden: It seems like one but according to the record, it's not an issue.
I'd like to--
Chief Justice Roberts: You don't defend the choice policy on the basis that the schools offer education to everyone of the same quality, do you?
Mr. Madden: --Oh, yes.
They offer... the popular schools to which everyone had access under this plan who wanted access, I think it's... there is no dispute.
Chief Justice Roberts: How is that different from the separate but equal argument?
In other words, it doesn't matter that they're being assigned on the basis of their race because they're getting the same type of education.
Mr. Madden: Well, because the schools are not racially separate.
The goal is to maintain the diversity that existed within a broad range in order to try to obtain the benefits that the educational research show flow from an integrated education.
Chief Justice Roberts: Even though in the individual cases the students, including minority students, and I gather 89 to 100 of the cases are being denied admission on the basis of their race?
Mr. Madden: They're not being denied admission.
They're being... seats are being distributed to them.
This is not like--
Chief Justice Roberts: They are being denied admission to the school of their choice?
Mr. Madden: --Yes.
But this is not like being denied admission to a state's flagship university.
I think for that proposition, I would cite Justice Powell's opinion in the Bakke case where he was at some pains to point out that a school integration plan is wholly dissimilar to a selective university admissions plan.
Justice Alito: If we look at the things that Parents are concerned about when they're considering where their children are going to high school, we look at things like SAT scores, for example, or performance on statewide tests, would we see that, the oversubscribed schools and the undersubscribed schools have similar test scores?
Mr. Madden: It depends on what school you're talking about, Justice Alito.
In this case, I think the most important point to start with is that there was no contention that there was any material difference in quality between the five popular high schools.
Justice Alito: Well, if we looked at Garfield and Cleveland, what would we find?
Mr. Madden: You would find a reasonable basis to perceive a quality difference between those two schools, but this plan didn't assign any students to Cleveland.
I want to take a moment, if I can, to turn to the issue of individualized consideration, because so much emphasis has been placed on it in the earlier discussion.
It seems to us, first of all, that this Court in Grutter said that not all uses of race trigger the same objections and that the Court must be mindful of the context.
This is not, as I've said, a selective or merit based system where we adjudge one student to be better than the other.
We do consider individual factors before we get to race, starting with choice and family connection, and how close you live to the school.
But ultimately, this is a distributive system which, as Justice Powell... as I noted, Justice Powell said in the Bakke case, is quite wholly dissimilar to a selective or merit based system.
What it seems to us is being suggested by the United States and by the petitioner is a system that would force an individualized merit based review on any kind of race conscious program, specifically an assignment to public schools.
That rule allows the means to define the ends; and it ends up, I think, defeating the purpose that the Court had of not stigmatizing--
Chief Justice Roberts: But the reason that our prior tests have focused on individual determination is that the purpose of the Equal Protection Clause is to ensure that people are treated as individuals rather than based on the color of their skin.
So saying that this doesn't involve individualized determinations simply highlights the fact that the decision to distribute, as you put it, was based on skin color and not any other factor.
Mr. Madden: --Mr. Chief Justice, in Grutter you said specifically that individualized review was required in the context of university admissions.
In this context, the kind of review, the specific kind of review that I understand the United States to urge and the petitioner to urge, serves no purpose, and it may itself be stigmatizing in the context of public schools where everyone gets a seat.
Justice Ginsburg: You're saying that individual treatment makes no sense in terms of the objective here.
I thought that's what you were saying.
Mr. Madden: Justice Ginsburg, that is correct.
I am saying, however, that this plan, consistent with narrow tailoring, provided consideration of individual circumstances, including an appeal on hardship grounds for someone who felt that they had been denied a school that they needed to be in.
Justice Kennedy: But the emphasis on the fact that everybody gets into a school, it seems to me is misplaced, but the question is whether or not you can get into the school that you really prefer.
And that in some cases depends solely on skin color.
You know, it's like saying everybody can have a meal but only people with separate skin can get the dessert.
Mr. Madden: Well, like the Michigan cases, sometimes students in the end of the day have an assignment determined by race.
Just like in the university cases, at some point race will be a tipping factor.
It's different, though, when we put someone in a basically comparable school.
Chief Justice Roberts: Well, you're saying every... I mean, everyone got a seat in Brown as well; but because they were assigned to those seats on the basis of race, it violated equal protection.
How is your argument that there's no problem here because everybody gets a seat distinguishable?
Mr. Madden: Because segregation is harmful.
Integration, this Court has recognized in Swann, in the first Seattle case, has benefits.
The district was--
Justice Scalia: Well, it seems to me you're saying you can't make an omelet without breaking eggs.
Can you think of any area of the law in which we say whatever it takes, so long as there's a real need, whatever it takes... I mean, if we have a lot of crime out there and the only way to get rid of it is to use warrantless searches, you know, fudge on some of the protections of the Bill of Rights, whatever it takes, we've got to do it?
Is there any area of the law that doesn't have some absolute restrictions?
Mr. Madden: --There are many areas of the law, certainly in the First Amendment and the Fourth Amendment, that have considerable flexibility.
Justice Scalia: But what about the Fourteenth?
I thought that was one of the absolute restrictions, that you cannot judge and classify people on the basis of their race.
You can pursue the objectives that your school board is pursuing, but at some point you come up against an absolute, and aren't you just denying that?
Mr. Madden: I think that in Grutter and Gratz, this Court rejected the absolute and instead described strict scrutiny, which we feel we need, and which is why we are not urging an absolute position.
We say that we indeed comply with the requirements of narrow tailoring, and that the plan therefore should be upheld.
Justice Ginsburg: And the question of integration, whether there was any use of a racial criterion, whether integration, using racial integration is the same as segregation, it seems to me is pretty far from the kind of headlines that attended the Brown decision.
They were, at last, white and black children together on the same school bench.
That seems to be worlds apart from saying we'll separate them.
Mr. Madden: We certainly agree, Justice Ginsburg.
We'd go one step further and note that in Brown, this Court said that the effects of segregated schools are worse.
Chief Justice Roberts: There's no effort here on the part of the school to separate students on the basis of race.
It's an assignment on the basis of race, correct?
Mr. Madden: And it is in effect to bring students together in a mix that is not too far from their community.
I see that my time has expired.
Rebuttal of Harry J.F. Korrell
Chief Justice Roberts: Thank you, Mr. Madden.
Mr. Korrell, you have four minutes remaining.
Mr. Korrell: Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice.
There were some questions of my friend Mr. Madden about the record and the statistics about enrollment, and I'd like to draw the Court's attention, particularly Justice Breyer and Justice Stevens' questions about what the schools look like now.
If the Court looks at pages 6 and 7 of our reply brief, we provided the enrollment data.
The information on page 7 comes from the school district website that provides enrollment data at the individual schools.
In 2005 and 2006, enrollment at the oversubscribed schools is now 54 percent non white, which is greater than it was under the district's--
Justice Breyer: This is the... as I gather, the plan where race is used, has to do only with the ninth grade.
And therefore, what you would like to note is when you look at the ninth grade after they stopped using any racial criteria at all, what happened to those ninth grade classes.
Did they become more heavily separated or did they retain their diversity?
Are the numbers that you are about to read us, which I have in front of me, going to do that?
Tell us that?
I think they're about the whole school.
Mr. Korrell: --They are, Your Honor, but they're about the whole school after four years of operating without the race preference.
So each of the four years they're represented in the aggregate shows the effect that I think Your Honor was asking about.
So, the record in this case shows the Seattle schools are richly diverse.
It's very important in our view that the Court not lose site of that.
We've talked about integration and segregation, but I urge the Court to take a look at the data the petitioners submit regarding the actual enrollment in those schools.
A couple of other record citations I'd like to bring to the Court's attention.
Justice Kennedy, I think, asked about considering race as a last resort.
It's simply not the case that the school district looked at race as a last resort.
And I would draw the Court's attention to the superintendent's testimony at joint appendix 224 and 25, where he said in essence, the reason we didn't consider race neutral plans is because we were interested in racial diversity.
Justice Breyer: The numbers I have here, Franklin went from 25 percent white to 12.7 percent.
Roosevelt, which was basically a white school, jumped up from about 51 to 59.
Ballard jumped up from about 56 to--
Then Garfield went down some, more mixed.
But those were the worst ones; am I right on that?
Mr. Korrell: Your Honor, I think the numbers that you're reading are from the difference between the 2000 and... '99 and the 2000 enrollments.
Justice Breyer: Okay.
Mr. Korrell: The numbers I was trying to bring to the Court's attention were the difference between the enrollment under the race based plan and the enrollment in 2005 and 2006, which shows significant and continued racial diversity in Seattle's high schools.
Counsel suggested also that there is no material difference among the five oversubscribed schools.
And I would draw the Court's attention to the testimony of the board president at joint appendix 261 to 274, where she discusses in detail the programmatic differences.
It is true that those five schools were oversubscribed and they were popular, but they all provide unique programs, some of which as we indicated in our briefs, required children to meet certain prerequisites to be able to attend.
Justice Ginsburg: Was the board simultaneously trying to introduce similar programs or attractive programs in the undersubscribed schools?
Mr. Korrell: Your Honor, I'm perhaps not the best person to answer that.
I believe the board has been trying to introduce programs at all of its schools that would make each school unique, and I think that includes the undersubscribed schools as well.
Justice Breyer asked a question about the... about the process of this litigation, and my understanding is there was never a lawsuit against Seattle to compel desegregation, that they were always following a plan.
Chief Justice Roberts: Thank you, counsel.
The case is submitted.
Opinion of the Court
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: I have the announcement in case No. 05-908, Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 and case number 05-915 Meredith v. Jefferson County Bd. of Education.
The Parents Involved case comes to us from the Ninth Circuit and concerns the adoption and implementation by the Seattle School District where a student assignment plan that requires all students to identify themselves as either white or non-white.
Seattle then uses the racial classifications to help insure that the racial balance at certain schools falls within a predetermined range based on the racial composition of the school district as a whole.
Seattle assignment plan allows incoming ninth graders to choose from among any of the district’s high schools, ranking the schools in order of preference.
If too many students list the same school as their first choice the district employees a series of tiebreakers to determine who will fill the open slots at the oversubscribed school.
The first tiebreaker selects students who have a sibling at the school.
The second tiebreaker is based on race if the school is racially imbalanced under Seattle’s plan and that it has too many non-white students than white students will be selected for admission.
If the school has too many white students then non-white students will be selected to move the school closer to the desired racial balance.
Petitioner parents involved the group of parents whose children have been or maybe dined assignment to their chosen school in Seattle solely because of their race challenged the constitutionality of Seattle’s assignment plan under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The Ninth Circuit found that Seattle’s use of racial classifications was narrowly tailored to serve a compelling government interest and upheld the plan.
The Meredith case comes to us from the Sixth Circuit and concerns the Jefferson County Kentucky Student assignment plan.
Jefferson County is basically metropolitan Louisville; Jefferson County classifies its students as either black or other and makes a school assignment based on among other factors the district’s racial guidelines which require all schools to maintain black enrolment of between 15 and 50%.
Petitioner Crystal Meredith enrolled her son Joshua a kindergartner in Jefferson County’s schools upon moving to the district and after he was assigned to a school far from home, she thought to transfer Joshua to a nearby elementary school.
Jefferson County denied Joshua’s transfer application even though the school he wish to attend had available space because his transfer would have had an adverse effect on his current school’s compliance with the racial guidelines.
Meredith challenged Jefferson County’s use of the racial guidelines under the Equal Protection Clause and the Sixth Circuit upheld the school districts assignment policy.
We granted certiorari in both cases and now reverse in both.
In an opinion for the Court filed with the Clerk today we find that this racial classification violates the constitution for the following reasons, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment allows government classification on the basis of race only where the classification satisfy the familiar “strict scrutiny” test that is were the racial classifications are shown by the government to be narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling government interest.
Our prior cases evaluating the use of racial classifications in the school context have recognizes two such compelling interest.
The first is the compelling interest of remedying the effects of past intentional discrimination such as prior segregation by law.
The Seattle public schools have not argued that they may use these racial classifications because they were previously segregated by law and they have never been subject to court ordered desegregation.
The Jefferson County public schools were previously segregated by law and were subject to a desegregation decree entered in 1975 but this decree was dissolved in 2000 upon a finding that the district had “eliminated the vestiges associated with the former policy of segregation” and does had achieved what is known as unitary status.
Neither school district argues that this remedial justification provides a compelling interest for their racial classifications.
The second government interest we have recognized as compelling for purposes of strict scrutiny is the interest in diversity in higher education upheld in Grutter v. Bollinger.
The diversity interest found compelling in that case was however not racial diversity alone, the use of race in Grutter was upheld only as part of a “highly individualized holistic review.”
We emphasize that the use of race was constitutional because it was part of a broader assessment of diversity and not simply an effort to achieve racial balance that the court said in Grutter would be “patently unconstitutional.”
In these cases in contrast to Grutter race is not considered as part of a broader effort to achieve “exposure to widely diverse people, cultures, ideas and viewpoints.”
Race for some students is determinative standing alone.
The court in Grutter defined a specific type of broad-based diversity and emphasized the unique context of higher education in upholding the racial classifications.
Neither of these characteristics exists in these cases and the compelling interest in student body diversity in higher education recognized in Grutter cannot support the districts use of race.
When it comes to the narrow tailoring requirement we conclude that the districts have not met their burden of showing that these racial classifications are necessary to achieve their stated ends.
Every student is Seattle is labeled white or non-white; every student in Jefferson County is labeled black or other.
If the minimal effect these classifications actually have on student’s assignments suggest that other regimes would be as effective in achieving the district’s stated goals.
Seattle’s racial tiebreaker results in the end only in shifting a few students between the schools.
Seattle can identify only a small number of students who were ultimately affected adversely by the racial tiebreaker.
Similarly, Jefferson County estimates that the racial guidelines account for only 3% of assignments and states the guidelines have minimal impact on the assignment process.
The minimal impact of the districts racial classifications has doubt on the necessity of using racial classifications in the first place.
Classifying and assigning school children according to a binary conception of race is an extreme approach in light of our precedence in history, and requires a greater showing of necessity to justify it.
In a portion of my opinion joined by Justices Scalia, Thomas and Alito we further conclude that these assignment plans do not further a compelling interest in racial diversity that the district’s claim to see.
Both school districts assert interest in reducing racial isolations in schools and educating students in a racially diverse learning environment.
The racial classifications employed by the districts however are not narrowly tailored to achieve these articulated goals.
Instead the plans are directed only to racial balance, an objective this Court has repeatedly condemned as to illegitimate.
The plans are tied to each district’s specific racial demographics, rather than to any pedagogic concept of the level of diversity needed to obtain the asserted educational benefits.
The districts offer no evidence that the level of racial diversity necessary to achieve the asserted educational benefits coincides with the particular concept or proportionality they have decided to advance.
Seattle classifies its students as simply white or non-white and seeks enrolments that reflect racial proportionality only in white, non-white terms.
But Seattle’s non-white population is composed of numerous different racial and ethnic groups 24% Asian-American, 23% African-American, 10% Latino, 3% Native-American.
Under Seattle’s definition a school that is 50% white and 50% Asian-American would qualify as racially diverse but a school that is 30% Asian-American, 25% African-American, 25% Latino and 20% white would be considered racially imbalanced.
Such a plan cannot be considered narrowly tailored to be asserted compelling interest in racial diversity.
We have many times over reaffirmed including in Grutter that racial balance is not to be achieved for its own sake.
Accepting racial balancing is a compelling state interest would justify the indefinite imposition of racial proportionality throughout our society.
The principle that racial balancing is not permitted is one of substance not semantics.
Racial balancing is not transformed from patently unconstitutional as we put it in Grutter to a compelling state interest simply by re-labeling it “racial diversity”.
Well the school districts use various verbal formulations to describe the interest they seek to promote; they offer no definition of the interest that suggests that in these cases it differs from racial balance.
We disagree with the dissent’s reliance on the compelling interest in remedying prior segregation to uphold the use of race in these plans.
No one questioned that race conscious remedies maybe use to redress prior illegal segregation.
But neither district has argued that its use of race can be sustained on that basis and these cases are before us because Seattle was not segregated by law and Jefferson County has been found who have eliminated the vestiges of its prior segregation.
The justification for race conscious remedies from our desegregation cases is not applicable here.
The dissenting opinions also argue that a standard overview less stringent than strict scrutiny should be applied to consider the districts use of racial classifications because the districts seek to use race for inclusive purposes and not to exclude.
This argument has been frequently made and frequently rejected.
Our precedence may clear that all racial classifications must be evaluated under strict scrutiny.
In an area as sensitive as the government’s use of express racial classifications we will not put our faith in the good intentions of the government alone.
It is also inaccurate to describe these plans as inclusive rather than exclusive.
They do not exclude all members of a particular racial group from school but they do exclude individuals solely on the basis of race.
In our cases have repeatedly explained that the right to equal protection is an individual right not a group right.
The dissent’s position comes down to this, the end justifies the means but no matter how desirable the district’s goals maybe in these cases they have not shown that they should be allowed to discriminate on the basis of race to achieve them.
Now the parties vigorously debate which side is more faithful to the heritage of our decision in Brown v. Board of Education this is a “from the argument of the plaintiff’s school children in Brown.”
We have one fundamental contention which we will seek to develop in the course of this argument and that contention is that no state has any authority under the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to use race as a factor in affording educational opportunities among its citizens.
It was that position that prevailed in this court which emphasize in its remedial opinion in Brown that what was required was “to achieve a system of determining admission to the public schools on a non-racial basis.”
How can plans such as these that look at individual children and say “you cannot come to this school if you are black or you can not come to this school if you are white”, you said to be determining admission on a nonracial basis.
For schools that did not segregate on the basis of race such as Seattle or they have removed the vestiges of past segregation such as Jefferson County.
The way “to achieve a system of determining admission in public schools on a nonracial basis is to stop assigning students on a racial basis”.
We conclude that these racial classifications violate the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and therefore reverse the judgments of the Courts of Appeals for the Sixth and Ninth Circuits and remand for further proceedings.
Justice Thomas has filed a concurring opinion, Justice Kennedy has filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment.
Justice Stevens has filed a dissenting opinion; Justice Breyer has also filed a dissenting opinion in which Justices Stevens, Souter and Ginsburg joined.
Justice Anthony Kennedy: As the Chief Justice has just indicated I have filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment and it seems appropriate to summarize that opinion very briefly.
The Nation’s schools strive to teach that our strength comes from people of different races, creeds, and cultures uniting in commitment to the freedom of all.
In these cases two school districts in different parts of the country seek to teach that principle by having classrooms that reflect the racial makeup of the surrounding community.
That the school districts consider these plans to be necessary should remind us our highest aspirations are yet unfulfilled.
But the solutions mandated by these school districts must themselves be lawful.
It is well established that when a government policy is subjected to strict scrutiny that government has the burden of proving that racial classifications are narrowly tailored measures that further compelling governmental interest that Jefferson County in its briefing has explained how and when it employs these classifications only in terms so broad and imprecise that they cannot withstand strict scrutiny.
It fails to make clear for example, who makes the decisions?
What if any oversight is employed; the precise circumstances in which an assignment decision will or will not made on the basis of race or how it is determined which of two similarly situated children will be subjected to a given race-based decision.
When a court subjects governmental action to strict scrutiny it cannot construe ambiguities in favor of the government.
As for the Seattle case the school district has failed to explain why in a district compose of a diversity races with only a minority of the students classified as “white”, it is employed the crude racial categories of white and non-white as the basis for its assignment decision.
Far from being narrowly tailored towards purpose this system threatens to defeat its own ends.
The school district has provided no convincing explanation for the design of the classifications.
For these reasons I concur in Parts I, II, III-A and III-C of the court’s opinion.
My further respectful submission however is that parts of the opinion by the Chief Justice imply on all two unyielding insistence that race cannot be a factor in instances when in my view it may be taken into account.
The plurality opinion is too dismissive of the legitimate interest government has in ensuring all people have equal opportunity regardless of their race.
The plurality opinion is at least open to the interpretation that the constitution requires school districts to ignore the problems of de facto desegregation in schooling and I cannot endorse that conclusion.
If school authorities are concerned that the student-body compositions of certain schools interfere with the objective of offering an equal educational opportunity to all of their students they are free to devise race-conscious measures to address the problem in a general way and without treating each student in different fashion solely on the basis of a systematic, individual typing by race.
Now the descent on the other hand rest on the assumptions that these sweeping race base classifications of persons are permitted by existing precedents and that its own confident endorsement of race categories for each child in a large segment of the community presents no danger to individual freedom in other prospective realms of government regulation and that the racial classification used here cause no hurt or anger of the types of the constitution prevents in each of these premises, in my respectful view, is incorrect.
There is every reason to think that a dissent rational were accepted, Congress, assuming an otherwise proper exercise of its spending power or its authority, or its commerce power could mandate either the Seattle or the Jefferson County plans nationwide.
There seems to be no principle rule moreover to limit the descent’s rationale even to the context of public schools.
The dissent’s argument that if race was the problem then perhaps race is the solution ignores the dangers presented by individual classifications, dangers which are not as pressing when the same ends are achieved by more indirect means.
To be forced to live under a state mandated racial label is inconsistent with the dignity of individuals in our society and governmental classification that command people to march in different directions based on racial typologies, assigned to individuals can cause new divisiveness.
Now that statement to be sure invites this response.
Now sense of stigma may already become the fate of those separated out by circumstances beyond their immediate control.
But to this the further replication must be: Even so measures other and differential treatment based on racial typing of individuals first must be exhausted.
The decision today should not prevents school districts from continuing the important work of bringing together students of different racial, ethnic and economic backgrounds.
The compelling interest exists in avoiding racial isolation, an interest that a school district and its discretion and expertise may choose to pursue.
Likewise a district may consider the compelling interest to achieve a diverse student population.
Race maybe one component of that diversity but other demographic factors, plus special talents and needs also be considered.
What the government is not permitted to do absent a showing of necessity not made here is to classify every student on the basis of race and to assign each of them the schools based on their classification.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: Justice John Paul Stevens, Justice David Souter, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and I dissent.
More than 50-years ago this court declared racial segregation in public schools unlawful.
Since then school districts using many different plans over many years have tried to integrate their public schools.
Louisville and Seattle are two such districts.
They began with racial segregated schools, they sought remedies, they try, forced busing, they fear or experience white flight, they faced concerns about de facto desegregation and they ended up with plans that end forced busing that rely heavily upon student choice.
In both cities all the students choose.
The majority indeed almost all of them received their first choice school but school districts efforts to keep school racially mixed for example in Louisville the school cannot be more than 85% white somewhat similar in Seattle.
Those efforts mean that some students do not receive their first choice though in Seattle such a student can transfer to a preferred school after a year.
These plans are not primitive action plans.
School placement here has nothing to do with any student’s merits; the schools here are not magnet schools.
They are about equivalent students preferences over the years have varied.
The plans here were adopted democratically by school board in order to achieve certain ends, ends that are partly remedial, partly educational, partly civil.
Until today the law has allow school districts to implement these kinds of plans.
The majority is wrong when it holds the counter.
In a long dissent indeed it’s twice as long as any I have written before.
In that long dissent we explain law and it is long because details are necessary to understand what’s going on here and why the majority is wrong, we holds its unlawful.
First I examined history in detail and that history shows the pattern that typical pattern I just described, segregation, remedial plans with forced busing white flight re-segregation concerns and new plans.
Indeed they chose that original of these plans were segregated by law.
These cities in fact Seattle was sue and entered into a consent decree, sued on the basis of the school board memo in 1956 that said the reason these schools are segregated in part is because we have transfer plans that makes black children go to one place and white to another.
There was no court decree neither was there a court decree in large portion of the South.
A lot of them segregated voluntarily, desegregated voluntarily there was no court decree but they were segregated de jure.
There was a court decree in Seattle anyway compared to earlier plans the present plans rely less upon race they emphasize student choice, they seek to improve the conditions of all schools for all students no matter the color of their skin, no matter where they happen to resolve so that’s the history.
Second, if you look at the law in detail, I think what you will find is it makes clear that ever since Brown this court has consistently approved the measures like these before us.
Indeed it has approved measures that were far more race-conscious to combat the harmful separation in the schools.
Consider for example what this court has said in Swann v. Charlotte Mecklenburg written 35-years ago.
I am going to read it, it is a paragraph “school authorities are traditionally charged with broad policy to formulate and implement educational policy” and might well conclude for example that in order to prepare students to live in pluralistic society each school should have a prescribed ratio of Negro to white students reflecting the proportion for the district as a whole.
To do this as an educational policy is within the broad discretionary powers of school authorities” and that case isn’t below that’s why the opinion is long, there are a lot of cases like that it was a principle of law upon which executive branch, legislative branch, judiciable branch built 10-20-30 years of approval of similar kinds of plan.
Indeed the case has and I think here everyone of them, everyone of them recognize that there is a critical equal protection clause distinction, a difference between on the one hand exclusionary racial discrimination that seeks to divide us and Justice Thurgood Marshall use to say, “that the constitution in respect of that kind of plan is fatal in fact” there is difference between that kind of plan and an inclusive race conscious plan that seeks to bring the races together.
Our cases whatever the language, whatever the linguistic test have always read the clause as not being fatal in fact to that kind of plan, the kind of plan that tries to bring people together, they all read the constitution as granting school districts significant, practical lead way to adapt an inclusive point should districts decide in their discretion that such a plan if I can paraphrase Justice Marshall again will help our children began to learn together with the hope that our people will learn to live together.
Third, as long as we keep in mind that the law is distinction between that which excludes and that which seeks to include then whatever linguistic test we apply the plans here pass with flying colors.
Do we have to find a compelling interest, which is language taken from Grutter that was the case in which this court upheld Michigan’s affirmative action plan for admission of the law school, do we have to find a compelling interest?
Here the school boards objectives the interest include efforts to eradicate the remnants of primary and secondary school segregation.
They include efforts to create school environments that will provide better educational opportunities for all children.
They include efforts to help create citizens better prepared to know, to understand and to work with people of all races and backgrounds thereby furthering the kind of democratic government our constitution foresees.
If an interest that combines these three elements remedial, education, civil if an interest to combine those three is not compelling what was it?
Do you we have to find that the board’s plans are narrowly tailored to achieve those interests after that Grutter said that affirmative action case will approve the plan.
Well here the plan’s limited and diminishing use of race, the plan’s strong reliance upon other non-race conscious factors, the history of their development, the comparison with earlier plans and the lack of reasonable evident alternatives to gather, show that these plans are more narrowly tailored, they are narrowly tailored, more settled than were the plans that the court upheld in Grutter and other earlier cases.
Let me deviate so I can give an example the majority says at one point that Seattle and Louisville have failed to try less race conscious alternatives and Justice Kennedy gives a list, I will read you the list, what they could have tried.
Strategic site selection of new schools, drawing attendant zones with general recognition of the demographics of neighborhoods, allocating resources for special programs, recruiting students and faculty in a targeted fashion and tracking enrolments, performance and other statistics by race.
Take these one-by-one, building new schools that’s called Strategic Site Selection.
Seattle has built one new high school in the last 44-years; their school population is diminishing, how is that going to work?
Let’s try another, drawing new attendant zones on a racial basis they tried that, they tried that both in Louisville and in Seattle and it worked, when it was accompanied by forced busing, something I don’t think anyone wants.
What about allocating resources for special programs, what I think that means is magnate schools, well, Seattle and Louisville have tried that too and they are still trying them and they have worked with degree but never alone.
What about recruiting faculty, ask the school administrator about how easy it is to solve this problem by recruiting faculty?
What about tracking enrolments, performance and other statistics by race, oh, I am sorry, tracking measures a problem, it doesn’t cure a problem.
The upshot is that in striking down the plans -- these plans, the court forbids or it dramatically narrows the leeway open to the school districts to use race conscious plans for inclusive reasons.
Some members of the majority would outright forbid that use, it would treat the equal protection clause is colorblind.
Other members of the majority impart through what they say, but more importantly for what they do striking down this plan would withdraw the practical leeway that we have previously said or at least radically narrowed, that leeway that we previously said the constitution offers those who would institute inclusive plans, regardless, their interpretation of the equal protection clause would prove to either always or almost always or certainly far too often fatal in fact, that’s the exclusive variety, fatal in fact to districts who seek to use race conscious means for inclusive ends.
Fourth, the consequences, race related controversy at school districts and others seek to unravel the meaning of today’s several opinions.
Delay, setback in bringing about racially diverse schools, trying to deal with threats of de facto segregation, trying to unify education in communities divided by poverty, correlated with race, these consequences are serious.
The conclusion of all this is simple, yesterday, the plans under review were lawful, today, they are not.
Yesterday, the citizens of this nation could look for guidance to this court’s unanimous pronouncements concerning desegregation, today, they cannot.
Yesterday, school boards had available to them a full range of means to combat schools that are segregated in fact, today, they do not, and there is more.
What has happened to starry decisis?
The history of the plans before us, their educational importance, their highly limiting use of race all these and more makes clear that the compelling interest here is stronger than in for example Grutter or we upheld the race conscious law school admissions program.
They are more narrowly tailored and what has happened to all those cases that made very clear that in the context of a K-12 public schools this kind of program is constitutionally permissible.
What has happened to Swann and others McDaniel, Crawford, Harris, School committee of Boston, Seattle School District No. 1, the pluralities logic writes these cases out of the law.
It is not awful in the law, it’s so few of so quick change so much.
What of respect for democratic local decision making by States and school boards, for several decades this court has rested its public school decision upon Swann’s basic view that the constitution grants local school districts a significant degree of leeway where the inclusive use of race-conscious criteria is at issue.
Now localities will have to cope with the difficult problems they face including a de facto re-segregation deprived of one important means they thought would help, and what of law’s concern to diminish and peacefully settle conflict among the Nation’s people?
Instead of accommodating different good-faith visions of our country and our Constitution, today’s holding upset settled expectations, creates legal uncertainty, and threatens to produce considerable further litigation, aggravating race related conflict, difficult problems surround race relations in this country.
The people of this Nation hold in good faith different views on how best to address those problems.
The plurality may question the wisdom of the district’s approach towards improving race relations in the public schools but the 14 members of the school boards in Seattle and Louisville hold a different view about that, about how to include children of all races.
They believe that their way will work better to bring about racial inclusion in their own communities; they don’t seek to impose that way upon other communities.
The Constitution does not dictate a single answer to this kind of question rather it grant citizens considerable freedom to debate and develop solutions for themselves and this court should leave them free to do just that, and what about the long history and moral vision that the Fourteenth Amendment itself embodies.
The plurality cites in support those who argued in Brown against segregation and some compare the approach I have taken to that of segregation’s defenders, but historic these segregations did not simply tell schoolchildren as the plurality suggest “where they could and could not go to school based on the color of their skin” that wasn’t all what was happening, that wasn’t what segregation just was.
It was about a caste system rooted in the institutions of slavery and 80-years of legalized subordination.
The history’s lesson is not that efforts to continue racial segregation are constitutionally indistinguishable from efforts to achieve racial integration and it is a cruel distortion of that history to compare Topeka, Kansas, in the 1950’s Louisville and Seattle in the modern day, to equate the plight of Linda Brown who was ordered to attained the Jim Crow School to the circumstances a petitioner Joshua McDonald whose transfer request to a school closer to home was indeed initially declined, let alone the Seattle student who has to spent a single year at a school he doesn’t prefer.
I am not saying there is nothing policy speaking but the problem of choosing everyone by race.
There is a cost in applying a state-mandated racial label.
There are many cost listed in the majority and pluralities opinions, but I am saying that those costs do not approach in degree or in kind, the terrible harms of slavery, the resulting caste system and 80-years of racial segregation.
Finally, what of the hope and promise of Brown?
For much of this Nations history the races remained divided.
It wasn’t that long ago that people of different races drank from separate fountains, rode on separate buses, studied in separate schools.
In this court’s finest hour, Brown vs. Board of Education challenged that history and helped to change it.
For Brown held out a promise, it was a promise embodied in three Amendments designed to make citizens of former slaves.
It was the promise of true racial equality, not as a matter of fine words on paper, but as a matter of everyday life the Nation’s citizens and schools.
It was about the nature of democracy that must work for all Americans.
It sought one law, one Nation, one people, not simply as a matter of legal principle but in terms of how we actually live our lives.
Not everyone welcomed that decision, three years after it Governor of Arkansas ordered state militia to block the doors of a white schoolhouse so that black school children could not enter.
President of the United States dispatched the 101st Airborne Little Rock, and federal troops were needed to enforce that desegregation decree.
Today, almost 50-years later, attitudes towards race in this Nation have changed dramatically.
No Airborne division many parents white and black alike, maybe almost all alike want their children to attained schools with children of different races.
Indeed the very school districts that once spurned integration now strive for it.
The long history of their efforts reveals the complexity and difficulties they have faced.
And in light of those challenge they here ask us not to take from their hands the instruments that they have used to rid their schools racial segregation instruments that they believe are still necessary to overcome the problems of cities that are divided by race and poverty.
Plurality would decline their modest request.
The plurality is wrong to do that.
Last half-century has witnessed great strides towards racial equality.
We have not yet realized the promise of Brown.
To invalidate the plans under review here is to threaten the promise of Brown.
The plurality’s position not intended that I fear would break that promise.
This is a decision that the court and the Nation will come to regret, I must dissent.