Three years ago, a bare majority of the Supreme Court of the United States further delayed Dr. Martin Luther King's dream that his children would one day live in a nation where they would "not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character" when five justices ruled colleges and universities could admit students based on their race.   Another Chance for a Colorblind Constitution

Maybe America's next generation of students will get to see a colorblind Constitution after all -- at least through their high school graduation.

Three years ago, a bare majority of the Supreme Court of the United States further delayed Dr. Martin Luther King's dream that his children would one day live in a nation where they would "not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character" when five justices ruled colleges and universities could admit students based on their race.  

As Justice Clarence Thomas wrote of the decision then, the High Court had granted colleges and universities a "25-year license to violate the Constitution," thus teaching America's future leaders the lesson that their race matters.

But, on Monday, a new High Court signaled that maybe, just maybe, that same lesson won't be taught to our nation's elementary and high school students.  Specifically, the justices agreed to hear two cases next term challenging the practice of some public school districts to use race in deciding whether students can choose to attend the elementary or high school of their choice.

The cases come from Louisville, Kentucky, and Seattle, Washington, where the public school districts allow students (with the assistance of their parents) to choose which schools they want to attend.  However, in assigning a school to each student based on his or her preferences, those school districts also considered the student's race if the school of choice already enrolls too many pupils of that same skin color.

Of course, the school districts claim they have a legitimate reason for engaging in this obvious racial discrimination.  The school districts argue they need to ensure each one of their elementary and high schools maintains the "proper" racial balance so that their students can reap the reward of educational diversity.  Not surprisingly, this was the rationale approved by the bare majority of the Supreme Court three years ago.

In truth, the racial balancing engaged in by the Louisville and Seattle public school districts is anything but permissible under both the Fourteenth Amendment and the Supreme Court's interpretation of it.  While five justices did uphold the University of Michigan's consideration of an applicant's race in admitting each student to law school, the Court said such racial consideration had to be "individualized" on a student-by-student basis to promote the "educational benefits" of "diversity." 

Indeed, in the companion University of Michigan case, a larger majority of the High Court struck down the University's undergraduate admissions process that gave a fixed number of "bonus" points toward admission to under-represented minority applicants.  Such a rigid preference for students of particular races was unconstitutional racial discrimination that violated the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause, the High Court ruled.

Rigidly is exactly how racial preferences have been used by the Louisville and Seattle public school districts.  Quite simply, those school districts used race as a disqualifying factor once a specific elementary or high school already had "enough" students that looked the same.  This certainly cannot be the holistic "individualized" consideration of race in education the bare majority approved three years ago.

Moreover, this new Court should get back to basics and reconsider what they want to teach our nation's school children about the Constitution.  Three years ago, five justices taught students applying for higher education that their race could matter more than their past educational performance or future academic potential.  Next year, the newly constituted High Court should teach America's elementary and high school students that the Constitution ensures their race shouldn't matter at all, and that Dr. King's dream is on its way to becoming reality.

June 9, 2006
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