As George Orwell might put it, all Supreme Court decisions are important, but some are more important than others. And in the history of our country, there can be little doubt that one of the Court’s most important decisions was its unanimous ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, decided 54 years ago this May 17th. Overturning the shameful “separate but equal” doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson and striking down school segregation laws, the ruling in Brown gave substance to the Constitution’s promise of equality for all. Without question, May 17, 1954 saw the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, at its very best.
Flash forward 53 years, to June 28, 2007. On that date, a bitterly divided 5-4 Supreme Court, now headed by Bush-nominee John Roberts, invalidated the school-assignment plans adopted by two public school districts to promote racial diversity in their schools. Joining Chief Justice Roberts in striking down those plans were Justices Samuel Alito (the Court’s other Bush-nominee), Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Anthony Kennedy.
Although Brown had eliminated state laws mandating segregated schools, it could not rid the country of school segregation created by local housing patterns. So public school districts, recognizing that children benefit from being educated in racially diverse schools, have tried to achieve such diversity on their own. The Court’s ruling last year has made that goal much harder to attain.
In a half-century, we’ve gone from a Court taking a stand for equal opportunity and against legally imposed segregation to a Court that rejects good-faith efforts by school officials to overcome patterns of segregation and give students the benefit of more diverse schools. That pretty much sums up the direction of the Court and its two Bush-nominated justices. Educational opportunity is only one of the arenas in which the Court is leading the nation in retreat. Every American is affected by the Court’s recent rulings undermining voting rights, privacy and reproductive choice, fair pay, religious liberty, and the very ability of individuals to turn to the federal courts for justice when their rights or interests have been harmed.
The Court will be on the ballot this November, as Americans vote for a new President and new Senators. Under Chief Justice Roberts, the Court has already moved far to the right. You can help People For the American Way Save the Court.