Supreme Court Update 2: Race in Public Schools

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


The Supreme Court heard opening arguments today in a case that will determine the fate of diversity programs in public schools. The policies of two school districts, in Seattle and Louisville, are under attack by parent groups who want to end the use of race as a factor in making public school assignments.

Not surprisingly, Justices Scalia, Kennedy, and Roberts were the most skeptical of the districts’ position in today’s hearing, with Kennedy and Scalia favoring food metaphors to get their points across. Scalia said the district was saying, “you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs,” while Kennedy opined that the district was telling its students that “everybody can get a meal,” but that only certain people can get “dessert.”

But as the Seattle district’s attorney Michael Madden argued, “This is not like being denied admission to a state’s flagship university.” Seattle students are “not being denied admission, they are being redistributed.” In fact, the district’s use of race in maintaining racial balance has been upheld by several Federal appeals courts, including one decision in the Seattle case written by Regan appointee Alex Kozinski who said the district’s assignment plan “carries none of the baggage the Supreme Court has found objectionable.”

The court’s decision will affect perhaps thousands of school districts around the country who consider race when making school assignments. Given the fact that most neighborhoods remain highly segregated, a decision in favor of the parents (which seems highly likely given the current make up of the court) would mean a gradual re-segregation of public schools (which may already be happening).

For more background on this story read my interview with David Engle, principal of Ballard High in Seattle where this case originated.

— Amaya Rivera

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest