You are here

Race-Based Student Assignments

In a case pending before the Supreme Court, the Seattle School District argues that it should be allowed to use race when assigning students to schools. It argues that its decision to use race should receive deference because it knows better than the courts how to run a school system. CEI filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court arguing that the school district shouldn't get any special deference. Our brief points out that the Seattle Schools have made wacky statements, such as claiming that planning ahead is acting white, that “individualism” is a form of “cultural racism,” and that minorities cannot be racist. These statements undercut the school district's claim that it has special insight into race-related educational issues to which the courts should defer. When the government seeks to treat people differently based on their race, it typically has to give a really good reason, like breaking down entrenched patterns of segregation. Since allowing the government to classify people by their race is risky, the government has to have a really compelling reason for doing so, and its arguments typically receive no deference from the courts. Its arguments are subjected by judges to what is called “strict scrutiny.” For example, although prisons typically get broad deference from the courts as to how they treat prisoners, and can sometimes do things that other government agencies can't do — like engaging in censorship or discriminating based on disability — they get no deference at all when they use race, according to the Supreme Court's 2005 decision in Johnson v. California. That decision held that strict scrutiny applies to all racial classifications, and that deference is antithetical to strict scrutiny. On his excellent web blog Discriminations, John Rosenberg discusses additional arguments made for why the Seattle School District should supposedly be allowed to use race. He explains why those arguments are unpersuasive, and why using race does not enhance student achievement.