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
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