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Today, the vision of Jim Crow stirred in the federal courthouse in Montgomery. And even more menacingly, it appeared across the street from the nation’s Capitol, in the Supreme Court. Four justices seek fervently to turn the clock back. Back to the dismal era before 1954. And a fifth justice waivers, perhaps, siding with them for the moment. In a stunning 5-4 decision, the Court outlawed a modest plan brought forward by two cities to insure that the student populations in their schools reasonably reflected of the population as a whole. These cities saw virtue in diversity. That’s not a radical vision. It’s shared by a great majority of Americans. But not, apparently, by five men on the Supreme Court.
The majority opinion was authored by Chief Justice Roberts. During his Senate confirmation hearings, Roberts was queried in some detail about his attitude towards the rule of stare decisis, as lawyers call the rule under which courts adhere to that which is settled by prior courts and do not disturb that which is decided. Several senators also asked him in particular about his attitude towards the decision in Brown v. Board of Education, in which the Court said that the notion of “separate but equal” education could not be reconciled with the Constitution. Would he uphold the rule in Brown? Roberts gave solemn assurances that he would not overturn Brown.
However, Roberts apparently has had a change of heart since being sworn in. Because that’s exactly what he attempted to do. Now the doctrine of Brown hangs by the thinnest of threads, namely the fact that Justice Kennedy decided to concur rather than join in some critical aspects of the Court’s opinion. Only on the basis of the Kennedy concurrence can we say that Brown has not been overturned – or at least not yet.
The decision in Parents Involved and its companion case also reveals another fraud. The sponsors of Justices Roberts and Alito claimed that they would be the advance wave of a new federalism, pulling the federal government and the courts back from the states and local authorities and giving them a free range to do what they pleased. In the current generation of desegregation, we are not dealing with court-imposed busing plans, but rather with local governments in Seattle and Louisville that decided to take some steps to ensure that the student bodies reflected the community more broadly rather than reflecting the de facto segregation of ethnic neighborhoods. But Roberts, Alito, Scalia, Thomas, and on a less sure basis, Kennedy held this to be unlawful.
I grew up going to schools with and without busing. Frankly, I could never understand the arguments against busing (excepting perhaps for fuel economy). Going to schools that reflected the broader community was a good thing, leading to a broader, richer and more diversified experience in the learning process. A school in which all students and teachers reflect the same ethnic, cultural and economic profiles is a pretty anemic place. In fact I watched those forces in work. They produced a higher proportion of narrow-minded bigots, it seemed to me.
“I have a dream,” said Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,
“that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”
And indeed for a while it seemed that this dream so vital for a just nation that realized the full value of its great human resources was becoming reality. Today, however, it is being hurled back into the world of distant aspiration.
For the Roberts Court has adopted a new watchword, and it is “Resegregation.”
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp
From the June 2014 issue
For the past three years my dosimeter had sat silently on a narrow shelf just inside the door of a house in Tokyo, upticking its final digit every twenty-four hours by one or two, the increase never failing — for radiation is the ruthless companion of time. Wherever we are, radiation finds and damages us, at best imperceptibly. During those three years, my American neighbors had lost sight of the accident at Fukushima. In March 2011, a tsunami had killed hundreds, or thousands; yes, they remembered that. Several also recollected the earthquake that caused it, but as for the hydrogen explosion and containment breach at Nuclear Plant No. 1, that must have been fixed by now — for its effluents no longer shone forth from our national news. Meanwhile, my dosimeter increased its figure, one or two digits per day, more or less as it would have in San Francisco — well, a trifle more, actually. And in Tokyo, as in San Francisco, people went about their business, except on Friday nights, when the stretch between the Kasumigaseki and Kokkai-Gijido-mae subway stations — half a dozen blocks of sidewalk, which commenced at an antinuclear tent that had already been on this spot for more than 900 days and ended at the prime minister’s lair — became a dim and feeble carnival of pamphleteers and Fukushima refugees peddling handicrafts.
One Friday evening, the refugees’ half of the sidewalk was demarcated by police barriers, and a line of officers slouched at ease in the street, some with yellow bullhorns hanging from their necks. At the very end of the street, where the National Diet glowed white and strange behind other buildings, a policeman set up a microphone, then deployed a small video camera in the direction of the muscular young people in drums against fascists jackets who now, at six-thirty sharp, began chanting: “We don’t need nuclear energy! Stop nuclear power plants! Stop them, stop them, stop them! No restart! No restart!” The police assumed a stiffer stance; the drumming and chanting were almost uncomfortably loud. Commuters hurried past along the open space between the police and the protesters, staring straight ahead, covering their ears. Finally, a fellow in a shabby sweater appeared, and murmured along with the chants as he rounded the corner. He was the only one who seemed to sympathize; few others reacted at all.
Number of U.S. congressional districts in which trade with China has produced more jobs than it has cost:
Young bilingual children who learned one language first are likelier than monolingual children and bilingual children who learned languages simultaneously to say that a dog adopted by owls will hoot.
An Oklahoma legislative committee voted to defund Advanced Placement U.S. History courses, accusing the curriculum of portraying the United States as “a nation of oppressors and exploiters.”
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“He could be one of a million beach-bound, black-socked Florida retirees, not the man who, by some odd happenstance of life, possesses the brain of Albert Einstein — literally cut it out of the dead scientist's head.”