School Daze

The high-profile controversy over reports of rampant racism at the historic Boston Latin School has intensified, with US Attorney Carmen Ortiz agreeing to investigate the perpetuation of prejudice at the prestigious school. (As previously disclosed, this writer graduated from Boston Latin 21 years ago.) I’m still not quite sure what to make of Boston NAACP head Michael Curry’s call for the resignation of the school’s headmaster, Lynne Mooney Teta, over her perceived mishandling of the school’s racial problems; a case can be made that keeping a penitent Teta in her position could ultimately benefit students of color far more than simply booting her out would.

Having said that, I find it more than a little upsetting that in all the coverage of the loathsome bias at Boston Latin, there has been so little discussion of the role the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia played in causing this current crisis.

Scalia was one of the five justices who gutted affirmative action in the notorious 1995 Adarand Constructors v. Pena decision. In his concurring opinion, Scalia declared that governmental efforts to undo the damage inflicted by past racial bias were, by definition, reverse discrimination:

In my view, government can never have a “compelling interest” in discriminating on the basis of race in order to “make up” for past racial discrimination in the opposite direction…Individuals who have been wronged by unlawful racial discrimination should be made whole, but, under our Constitution, there can be no such thing as either a creditor or a debtor race. That concept is alien to the Constitution’s focus upon the individual [as well as] its rejection of dispositions based on race…To pursue the concept of racial entitlement — even for the most admirable and benign of purposes — is to reinforce and preserve for future mischief the way of thinking that produced race slavery, race privilege and race hatred. In the eyes of government, we are just one race here. It is American.

The Adarand decision was the catalyst for the first of two successful legal challenges to race-based admissions policies at Boston Latin in the mid-1990s; I’m sure that even the plaintiff’s attorney in that first case (who was also the counsel for the plaintiff in the second case) would admit that the first case never would have been filed were it not for the Adarand ruling, since the legal terrain pre-Adarand was far more favorable towards affirmative action. As noted last month, those who defended Boston Latin’s former admissions policies warned that if those policies were eliminated, black and Hispanic enrollment would drop to infinitesimal numbers–and the school would become unbearably hostile for the black and Hispanic students who were admitted after the elimination of those policies. This has now happened–and Scalia and his fellow right-wingers bear ultimate responsibility for the current racial havoc at Boston Latin.

Scalia famously told opponents of the 2000 Bush v. Gore decision to “get over it.” Those who suffered at the hands of his actions will never be able to do so.

UPDATE: More from the Boston Globe, WGBH-FM and WBUR-FM.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.