Like many, I have been anxiously anticipating and bracing myself for the decision made by the Supreme Court today to gut Affirmative Action since the oral arguments in October. The Court’s majority added to a shameful list of decisions that reverse equitable progress, perpetuate systemic racism, and decimate protections ensuring equal rights and opportunity for the most marginalized and vulnerable in America. Further, it adds to a very specific and grotesque history of the U.S. Supreme Court undermining and stunting equal rights for Black Americans.
The effects of this decision cannot be overstated. We can look to the 2007 Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle and the chilling effect such a decision had on diversity efforts in K-12 admissions. The almost prophetic prose of Justice Breyer’s over 70-page dissent alongside his over 20-minute long oral dissent from the bench that day comes to mind. His dissent both forewarned of the re-segregative consequences of such a decision and condemned the decision for undermining progress toward the fulfillment of the promise of Brown v. Board of Education. In closing, Justice Breyer said:
“And in light of those challenges they [the school districts] here ask us not to take from their hand the instruments that they have used to rid their schools of racial segregation– instruments that they believe are still necessary to overcome the problems of cities that are divided by race and poverty. Plurality would decline their modest request. Plurality is wrong to do that…We have not yet realized the promise of Brown. To invalidate the plans under review here is to threaten the promise of Brown…This is a decision that the court and the Nation will come to regret, I must dissent.”
In the United States, despite significant increases to the diversity of the overall student population, our schools and communities remain segregated across racial and socioeconomic lines. In New York City, we remain one of the most segregated school systems in the country. Today’s decision eliminates a crucial tool officials in higher education had at their disposal for realizing an equal, just, and integrated society.
And while this opinion creates a daunting obstacle for colleges and universities who value and understand the benefits of a diverse student population, history also shows us that race-neutral alternatives, while not as effective, are still both plausible and possible. Once again, parallels can be drawn between this opinion and the PICS case addressing K-12 admissions, and more importantly, the lessons learned. While incredibly damaging for furthering integration in K-12 schools, PICS was not the death knell to combatting school segregation. There are examples across the country of schools and districts turning to innovation and race-neutral indicators to support diversity. New York Appleseed, for one, has firsthand experience spearheading successful campaigns for policies and programming that have chipped away at pernicious levers of segregation present in NYC. And although we keep a very close eye on local and national attempts to further dismantle tools we have in the K-12 arena to address segregation, we remain confident and dedicated to our mission and purpose to further school and community integration across NYC and state.
Oftentimes historical wrongs conjure powerful dissents and rallying cries that inspire others to fight harder for fairness, equity, and inclusion. In high school classrooms across the country, there are likely students considering college applications now enraged by a decision that could impact their opportunity and access to higher education–they will fight back. There are college admissions offices across the nation that will uphold diversity as a value for their institution and will find innovative ways to affirm this value within the new standards set by law. In law schools across the nation, I wager that today’s decision will inspire a new generation of lawyers to choose a career in civil rights and social justice. And for many nonprofits such as our own, today’s backsliding only reaffirms our purpose to advocate for integrated schools and communities.
New York Appleseed stands in solidarity with our counterparts in higher education today. I hope many of you who may need joy today may find some in our latest newsletter and the recent actions and events we held to further equity and integration in schools.