Sunday, July 1, 2007

Supremely Unproductive Jurisprudence

For the briefest second after John Roberts became Chief Justice of the United States I thought “he’s young, which sucks in general, but at least that means we can put to rest worries of having a Chief Justice named Antonin Scalia.” Now that we’ve seen his court in action the thought is NO consolation.

The substance of the school integration decision alone was enough to make Friday’s NY times depressing. On top of it all, the image plastered front in center on the first page gave me the willies. It was a picture of the supremes, grouped according to their votes in the case, and the majority looked right spry compared to the dissenters. One can’t deny it, the neo-cons will leave a legacy.

I am not a legal scholar, or a historian, but a few thoughts inspired by the school integration case:

  • Juan Williams has an interesting analysis of the situation. Basically it’s that getting rid of de jure segregation neither got rid of de facto segregation, nor closed the achievement gap between students of color and white students, so we should stop focusing on racial integration, and start focusing on improving all schools, so every kid gets a good education. Yes, every kid should get a good education, but is his idea realistic? We Americans still harbor lots of race and class prejudice, and the successful among us tend to believe society is a meritocracy. Given this climate, I can’t see school reform happening equally across the board, and it doesn’t take a crystal ball to predict that those students who get the short shrift will mostly be poor and/or minorities. Not rocket science, just a reality-based hunch.
  • My favorite quotation in Friday's coverage was from a Columbia law professor who worked on Brown: “Following Brown that was massive resistance. This is essentially the rebirth of massive resistance in a more acceptable form” (NYT, 6/29/07).
  • I’m not going to re-hash why “color-blindness” is mostly just in practice a way to ignore racism. Take a look at Lesboprof for that, and a compelling reaction to the decision.
  • Let’s all keep in mind that ending de jure segregation hasn’t lead to much integration. 53 years after Brown “70% of black students attend schools that are 2/3 black & Hispanic” & “the average while student attends a school that is 80% white” (NY times 6/29/07). Maybe that suggests we haven’t given it enough time. Maybe the socioeconomic, and “white people are afraid of black people” factors that keep us sorted by color will go away, albeit slowly, if we continue business as usual. What I tend to think it suggests is that us white people, yes, myself included, need to acknowledge that we are still benefiting from racism, and work with the entire nation (nope, not just folks who look like us) to change that. Note to the supremes: pretending that law and society are color blind does not count. In the end we will all benefit.

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