The recent Supreme Court case of Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 has some people wondering if the Court is getting ready to overturn the landmark decision of Brown v. Board of Education.
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The landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education marked a turning point in American history, one that led to the eventual desegregation of public schools across the country. But nearly 70 years later, some members of the Supreme Court seem poised to upend that decision—and with it, the progress that’s been made toward educational equity.
In recent years, the court has heard a number of cases that could chip away at Brown’s legacy. Most notably, in 2007’s Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1, the court ruled that school districts could no longer use race as a factor in assigning students to schools, even if doing so was meant to achieve diversity. And last year, in Abigail Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, the court heard arguments on whether colleges and universities can consider race in their admissions decisions—a practice known as affirmative action—in order to promote diversity on campus. A ruling is expected later this year, and many observers believe the court will side with Fisher and strike down affirmative action programs altogether.
If the court does overturn Brown or weaken affirmative action programs, it would have profound implications for students of color across the country. Here’s a look at what’s at stake:
What is Brown v. Board of Education?
On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. By a vote of nine to zero, the Court ruled that racial segregation in public schools violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. This ruling overturned the Court’s previous decision in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), which had upheld racial segregation under the so-called “separate but equal” doctrine.
In Brown, the Court specifically considered whether racial segregation in public schools denies black children “the equal protection of the laws” guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court noted that, in Plessy, it had previously held that “separate but equal” public facilities did not violate the Equal Protection Clause. However, the Court stated that education is “one of the most important functions” of state and local governments and that “it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education.”
The Court went on to say that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal” and thus violate the Equal Protection Clause. The Court acknowledged that its decision would require states to make substantial changes in their public school systems, but stated that such changes should be made “with all deliberate speed.”
In subsequent cases, including Cooper v. Aaron (1958) and Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education (1971), the Supreme Court issued a series of decisions clarifying and enforcing its holding in Brown. As a result of these decisions, racial segregation in public schools has been outlawed nationwide, and both state and local governments have taken significant steps to ensure compliance with Brown and its progeny
The Impact of Brown v. Board of Education
In May of 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. The Court held that state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students were unconstitutional. This decision overturned the “separate but equal” doctrine that had been established by an earlier Supreme Court decision, Plessy v. Ferguson (1896).
The Brown decision was based on the principle that “separate but equal” education was inherently unequal. In his opinion for the Court, Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote:
“We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”
The Court ordered school districts to desegregate “with all deliberate speed.” However, implementation of the Court’s ruling was often delayed by legal challenges and resistance from local communities. It was not until the late 1960s and early 1970s that most schools in the United States were finally desegregated.
The Brown decision had a profound impact on American society. It led to an increase in desegregation efforts throughout the United States, both in education and in other areas such as public accommodations and employment. The decision also helped to fuel the Civil Rights Movement, which culminated in passage of landmark civil rights legislation in the 1960s.
Since its inception, the Brown decision has been attacked by some critics who argue that it represents an overreach of judicial power and that it has had negative consequences for American society. These critics point to a number of problems that they believe have arisen as a result of desegregation, such as increased racial tension and violence, lower academic achievement among minority students, and flight to suburban school districts by middle-class families.
What do you think? Are these criticisms valid? Or does Brown v. Board of Education remain an important symbol of progress in American race relations?
Are They Overturning Brown v. Board of Education?
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Tuesday in a case that could deal a major blow to public education.
The case, Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, challenges a state law that bars the use of public funds for religious schools. If the court strikes down the law, it would open the door for taxpayer dollars to be used to fund religious education, potentially upending one of the court’s most significant decisions.
In Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court ruled in 1954 that public schools could not be segregated on the basis of race. The decision overturned the “separate but equal” doctrine that had long been used to justify segregated Education.
Espinoza was brought by a group of parents in Montana who argued that a state law barring the use of public funds for religious schools violated their right to free exercise of religion. The parents said they wanted to use a state tax credit scholarship program to send their children to a Catholic school.
The Montana Supreme Court ruled against the parents, saying that the state constitution bars public funds from being used for religious schools.
The case now before the U.S. Supreme Court could have major implications for public education if the court rules in favor of the plaintiffs. A ruling in favor of the plaintiffs would open the door for religious groups to seek taxpayer funding for private schools, potentially leading to a significant decline in funding for public schools
The Court’s recent decision in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 does not overturn the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision that ended segregation in public schools. Nor does it jeopardize the progress that has been made toward achieving racial diversity in our schools.
What the Court’s decision does is to make it clear that school districts cannot use racial classifications and quotas in making school assignments. This is an important principle that protects the rights of all students, regardless of race.
The Court’s decision will have no immediate impact on school district policies or on students who are currently attending schools under desegregation orders. But over time, it may mean that some school districts will have to find new ways to promote racial diversity without using racial classifications and quotas.