ANOTHER 5-4 RULING….It’s been a discouraging week at the Supreme Court. Over the last four days, there have been five major decisions, all of them 5-4 rulings, all of them victories for conservatives, and all of them backed by the same five-member majority (Roberts, Alito, Scalia, Thomas, and Kennedy).
Today’s ruling on school racial integration was probably the most disappointing of all.
Concluding its current Term with a historic ruling on race in public policy, the Supreme Court divided 5-4 on Thursday in striking down voluntary integration plans in the public schools of Seattle and Louisville. Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., wrote the majority opinion in the combined cases. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy did not join all of the majority opinion, but joined in the result. Kennedy suggested in a separate opinion that the Chief Justice’s opinion, in part, “is at least open to the interpretation that the Constitution requires school districts to ignore the problem of de facto resegregation in schooling. I cannot endorse that conclusion.”
“The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race,” Roberts wrote. On the two school plans, the majority found that the districts have “failed to provide the necessary support for the proposition that there is no other way than individual racial classifications to avoid racial isolation in their school districts.”
The Chief Justice, in his oral announcement of the ruling, insisted that the Court was remaining faithful to Brown v. Board of Education in barring public school districts from assigning students on the basis of race. Answering that, Justice John Paul Stevens said in dissent that there was a “cruel irony” in making that claim, because it involved a rewriting of the history “of one of this Court’s most important decisions.” Stevens noted that he joined the Court in 1975, and asserted that “no member of the Court” at that time “would have agreed with today’s decision.”
Stevens’ and Breyer’s dissents (.pdf) are both worth reading. Their disdain for the majority is palpable.
Ultimately, of the five controversial rulings this week, Roberts wrote the majority opinion in three, and Alito wrote the other two.
I guess it’s one of those elections-have-consequences moments, isn’t it?