Parents v. Seattle School District and Meredith v. Jefferson Co. Board of Education

126 S.Ct 2738
Brief Filed: 10/06
Court: United States Supreme Court
Year of Decision: 2007

Read the full-text amicus brief (PDF, 456KB)

Issue

The consolidated cases involve voluntary desegregation plans in Kentucky and Seattle K-12 public school systems that use race as a factor in some instances when assigning children to particular schools or programs within schools

Index Topic

Affirmative Action

Facts

Seattle case:

The Seattle public school system uses an integration “tiebreaker” in an open choice, noncompetitive high school assignment plan. The 10 Seattle high schools have various unique programs. Under the tiebreaker plan, students entering the ninth grade may select any high school in the school district and are assigned, where possible, their first choice. If there is an oversubscription of their school of choice, students are assigned a high school based on several tiebreakers. One of the tiebreakers is the race of student if the school is racially imbalanced (defined as a racial makeup of its student body that differs by more than 15 percent from the makeup of students in the Seattle public schools as a whole). Seattle’s demographics are such that the public school population is 60 percent non-white and 40 percent white. Racial imbalance is therefore a school that is either more than 75 percent non-white/less than 25 percent white or less than 45 percent non-white/greater than 55 percent white. For several years, 3-4 high schools out of the 10 were oversubscribed and race was considered. In the last year considered, the racial tiebreaker was “turned off” when the 15 percent plus or minus variance was reached. While Seattle was never under a court order to desegregate, each court that reviewed the case found that the segregated housing patterns in Seattle would have resulted in highly segregated high schools if race were not considered by the schools.

Kentucky Case:

Unlike the Seattle public school system, the Jefferson County (Ky.) Public Schools were released from a 1975 court-ordered desegregation plan in 2000. The school system then began to use a student choice plan. JCPS offers a wide variety of different types of schools and programs within schools and includes 87 elementary schools, 23 middle schools and 20 high schools as well as several alternative schools. The JCPS plan designates a student as Black/African American or other. (Less than 5 percent of the total student population is neither White nor Black but rather Latino, Asian or another ethnicity.) The 2001 plan at issue requires each school to attempt to maintain a Black student enrollment of at least 15 percent and not more than 50 percent. The actual percentage of Black students at the various schools ranges from 20.1 percent to 50.4 percent. For most of the schools and programs, assignment decisions are made by school principals based on students’ choices of where they want to attend, student’s residence location, space at the school, special application requirements such as essays for a magnet program, and other factors so long as the decision does not place the school outside the racial guidelines.

APA's Position

APA, joined by the Washington State Psychological Association, filed an amicus curiae brief in the Supreme Court setting out a range of research that is relevant to understanding the importance of racial diversity in the K-12 setting. The brief in the cases presented social psychological and developmental research as a backdrop for the court’s consideration of the two school districts’ plans. The brief built on earlier work in this area (mentioned below) adding new research and updating previously identified studies. The brief presented research evidence suggesting that racial diversity provides benefits sufficient as a compelling governmental interest and that private choice alone is unlikely to produce substantial diversity and meaningful intergroup contact. The brief educated the Court concerning some of the processes involved in prejudice and discriminatory behavior, including negative stereotypes, in-group bias, aversive racism, intergroup anxiety and implicit stereotypes. Central to the discussion was the “Intergroup Contact Hypothesis,” including recent meta-analytic research linking intergroup contact under appropriate conditions with decreased levels of intergroup prejudice. Recent developmental and social psychological studies concerning children and the impact of racially homogenous versus diverse schools on implicit racial bias, intergroup attitudes, cross-race friendships and feelings of safety and self-worth were highlighted.

Results

The Court issued an opinion ruling against the districts by a 5-4 vote. The majority began by noting that because the record was devoid of any indication that could justify these race-conscious programs on remedial grounds, its inquiry would focus only on the diversity interest. The majority emphasized that the law school admissions program upheld in Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306 (2003), was part of a broader assessment of diversity, and not simply an effort to achieve racial balance. By contrast, the districts’ policies focused solely on race, without a broader effort to assess diversity. The majority further noted that because the use of racial classification had only a minimal effect on student assignments, there was more reason to doubt the necessity of using racial classifications. Finally, the majority concluded that the districts’ plans were not narrowly tailored because the districts failed to consider methods other than explicit racial classifications to achieve their goals.