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Brennan Center Files Brief in Support of Voluntary School Integration

October 10, 2006

For Immediate Release:
Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Contact Information:
Tim Bradley, BerlinRosen Public Affairs
(646) 452–5637
Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, Brennan Center for Justice
(212) 998–6025

Brennan Center Files Brief at Supreme Court in Support of Voluntary School Integration
First School Integration Case before the Roberts Court Will Have National Implications for Diversity in Primary and Secondary Public Schools

New York, NY The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law filed a friend of the court brief today in two cases pending before the U.S. Supreme Court concerning voluntary programs to integrate public schools in Louisville, Kentucky and Seattle, Washington. The outcome of the two cases Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District, and Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education could have major implications for diversity policies in public school districts across the country.

The brief urges the court to uphold both programs arguing that diversity in schools yields graduates who are socially and culturally tolerant, and are therefore better prepared to execute civic and professional duties. The Brennan Center and co-counsel Heller Ehrman LLP filed the brief on behalf of the Brennan Center, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Dmos, the National Voting Rights Institute and the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education20Fund.

Five decades ago, the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that desegregating schools is essential to preserving our democracy, said Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, Associate Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. What was true then remains true today. Racial segregation and inequality are still with us. Racial disparities persist as a result of de facto segregation, discrimination, and residential and socioeconomic patterns.

The brief comes as the Supreme Court considers its first cases on race in public education since Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito joined the court in 2005 and 2006, respectively. This will also be the courts first ruling on this topic since it upheld affirmative action in public universities three years ago.

The brief urges the court to preserve the right of school administrators to voluntarily integrate public schools. It argues that public schools provide a unique and near-universal opportunity for the nations youth to socialize face-to-face in a cross-racial context: 87% of all children attend public school for some or all of their primary or secondary education, including 83% of white children, 93% of African-American children, and 93% of Hispanic children. With the persistence of segregated housing patterns across the country, the Brennan Center argues that a diverse education breeds racial tolerance and enhances future citizenship. And the brief contends20that barring schools from integrating will end the promise of the Supreme Courts seminal 1954 case, Brown v. Board of Education.

The particular case before the court concerns the ability of schools in Seattle, Washington and Louisville, Kentucky to maintain racially integrated schools through a series of school assignment guidelines. Seattles policy, which has been halted while contested in court, would allow students to select their preferred school and uses race as an admission tie-breaker in highly sought-after schools. In Louisville, which was under a federally-mandated desegregation program until 2000, a voluntary integration plan strives to enroll minority students in 15–50% of each school. The desegregation plans in both cities aim for school populations that reflect that racial and ethnic makeup of their communities.

These systems have been challenged by white parents in each city claiming the programs violate their childrens rights by taking their race into account in public school admissions. The Brennan Centers amicus brief argues that both programs in Seattle and Louisville are constitutional because (1) they actively promote diversity in communities that could otherwise hinder it and (2) because the Supreme Court has previously recognized diversity in schools as a constitutional and compelling state interest. Both programs have been upheld by federal Courts of Appeals in the 9th and 6th circuit, respectively.