Back to the Drawing Board on School Integration

Attention: Supreme Court and Education Reporters

Contact: Susan Gluss, media relations director, UC Berkeley School of Law
510.642.6936 or

Berkeley, CA —June 28, 2007. The United States Supreme Court today sent school districts “back to the drawing board” in devising plans to promote racial integration, even as it recognized the importance of achieving a diverse student body in public schools, according to Goodwin Liu, assistant professor of law and co-director of the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Race, Ethnicity and Diversity at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law (Boalt Hall). The High Court ruled on two cases concerning elementary and secondary school integration: Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1, and Meredith v. Jefferson County Public Schools.

Although the Court held unconstitutional voluntary school integration policies in Seattle, WA, and Louisville, KY, the cases ended in a “4-1-4” split among the nine Justices. Four Justices, in an opinion authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, endorsed a broad rule against the use of race in student assignment. Four other Justices, in a dissenting opinion authored by Justice Stephen Breyer, would have upheld the plans. Justice Kennedy, in a separate and controlling opinion, strongly endorsed the goal of racial integration in public schools, while significantly limiting the use of race to classify individual students on the basis of race.

“Today a five-Justice majority of the Court recognized that racial integration of public schools remains a compelling and enduring aspiration for our society,” said Professor Liu. “Justice Kennedy’s controlling opinion leaves open several avenues for race-conscious measures to achieve integration, including strategic-attendance zoning and school siting decisions as well as magnet schools and special programs. The upshot is that the Court has sent school districts literally back to the drawing board to devise creative assignment plans to integrate our public schools.”

“It is significant that a majority of the Court—Justice Kennedy and the four dissenting Justices—rejected Chief Justice Roberts’s attempt to read Brown v. Board of Education as a categorical rule of colorblindness,” according to Professor Liu. “It is remarkable that the Chief Justice of the United States would cite Brown to defeat, not defend, school integration, and five Justices rejected this view as deeply ahistorical.”

Available for Interviews:

Goodwin Liu , Counsel of Record for the Amici Curiae brief of 19 former Chancellors of the University of California in support of the school districts’ integration programs; Assistant Professor of Law and Co-Director of the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Race, Ethnicity and Diversity at Boalt Law School. Goodwin Liu can be reached directly: (510) 642-7509. Email:

Christopher Edley, Jr ., Dean and Professor of Law, Boalt Law School; and Co-Director, Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Race, Ethnicity and Diversity. Edley is the Counsel for the Amici Curiae brief, along with Goodwin Liu. Edley was co-founder of the Harvard Civil Rights Project, a renowned multidisciplinary research and policy think tank focused on issues of racial justice.

The Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Race, Ethnicity, and Diversity at Boalt Law School is a multidisciplinary, collaborative venture to produce research, research-based policy prescriptions, and curricular innovation on issues of racial and ethnic justice in California and the nation. Its mission is to engage the most difficult topics related to civil rights, race and ethnicity on a wide range of legal and public policy issues, providing valuable intellectual capital to public and private leaders, the media and the general public, while advancing scholarly understanding.