More than 50 years of school desegregation policy could be torn down with the rap of a gavel if the Supreme Court rules against Seattle's voluntary integration "Open Choice" program, which used race as a determination in its high school transfer policy.
The high court is expected to decide in the next few weeks if two cases of voluntary integration are simply helping increase student diversity or disguising the illegal practice of setting racial quotas.
The two cases, Parents in Community Schools v Seattle School District and Meredith v Jefferson County (Kentucky) Public Schools challenge the constitutionality of race-based admissions policies in America's public schools.
In both cases, parents and representatives of White students have sued school districts after their children were denied admission to the school of their choice because of their race.
In Seattle, the district's attorney has said race was one of many factors taken into account when a student transferred to a high school not in his or her neighborhood. The intended outcome was to create a better racial balance in the Seattle district's high schools, but race was only used as a last resort when assigning students to many of the district's popular high schools.
The race-based admissions criteria ended in 2002, although its opponents contend the program could be reinstated at any time.
In the Kentucky case, race was used to ensure schools were between 15 and 50 percent Black. The mother in the case, Crystal Meredith, contends her then-elementary- school-aged White son should not have been denied admission to a school close to his home because of the color of his skin.
While the Court decided favorably in the University of Michigan Law School affirmative action case three years ago, the court now lacks its swing voter, former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Her replacement, Justice Samuel Alito, is far more conservative and many supporters of desegregation fear the court will not favor racial admission guidelines.
Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, has said the court's ruling could lead "to a mass re-segregation" and, in an amicus brief filed last October by the Urban League, Morial warned that it would be a "fallacy to suggest that by not considering race at all – i.e. by ignoring de facto neighborhood segregation – the Seattle School District would somehow be acting in a 'race-neutral' fashion when a return to a school system that does not take race into account would mean that the schools would be distinguished solely by race."
Morial pointed out in a recent editorial, that school districts that have implemented "race neutral" school assignment plans after having used race as a factor have seen a reversal in their integration efforts.
With the U.S. Supreme Court's decision expected in the next few weeks, many experts have come out to highlight this country's continued problem with segregation.
John Brittain, chief counsel and senior deputy director at the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law told media at the Center for American Progress in Washington D.C. two weeks ago that the United States has a long way to go when it comes to solving segregation in our public schools.
"We're more segregated today than we were in 1954," Brittain said. "Especially in urban areas."
The Bush administration has taken the side of the White students' parents.
In a brief filed with the Supreme Court, the Seattle School District defended its use of race as a determining factor in transfer policies.
"The plan has prevented the re-segregation that inevitably would result from the community's segregated housing patterns and that most likely would produce many schools that might be perceived as 'failing,' " the district stated.