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Saperstein: Although Justice Kennedy’s controlling opinion, read together with the dissents, makes clear that a majority of the court believes that achieving racial balance is a compelling state goal, the holding inescapably leaves cities and school boards severely restricted in the tools they may use to reach that goal.
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June 28 2007 | Washington DC – Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism released the following statement responding to today’s U.S. Supreme Court Decisions on school integration and application of the death penalty:
Today the Supreme Court handed down more controversial 5-4 decisions, this time in a joint ruling on a pair of crucial school integration cases as well as a significant challenge to the application of the death penalty to a mentally challenged defendant.
We are disturbed by the ruling in the school cases (Parents Involved In Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1, 05-908, and Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education, 05-915). Although Justice Kennedy’s controlling opinion, read together with the dissents, makes clear that a majority of the court believes that achieving racial balance is a compelling state goal, the holding inescapably leaves cities and school boards severely restricted in the tools they may use to reach that goal.
By holding that the voluntary integration plans of Louisville, KY and Seattle, WA are unconstitutional, the Supreme Court has abandoned its commitment to the idea that separate is inherently unequal, which will only lead to further segregations of our nation’s public schools.
So while a majority of the court reaffirmed the critical point that that diversity remains a compelling state interest, the Court nonetheless reversed the rulings in these cases; sending efforts at ensuring equal and integrated schools back to square one. Today’s ruling against these cities’ voluntary integration plans leaves public school districts across the country little recourse but to sanction racially segregated public schools. It is disappointing enough that in over five decades since Brown v. Board, the issue of desegregation has yet to be resolved. It is far more painful, however, that as of today school districts are largely prohibited from even trying.
In Panetti v. Quarterman, the death penalty case, the court struck down, also in a 5-4 decision, a lower court ruling that would have allowed the State of Texas to execute a severely mentally ill man. In this troubling case, the Court held that while Panetti was indeed aware of his crime, his lack of any rational understanding of his actions made his execution unconstitutional. The Reform Movement finds the execution of any individual by the government to be abhorrent, and we praise the Supreme Court for its decision to spare the life of a man whose mental illness worsened during his 12 years on death row.
Today’s decisions also marked the end of the Court’s term. There will be time in the days and weeks ahead to analyze the full impact of this landmark Supreme Court term, the first with Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito on the bench. It has been a term notable both for its results and for what it tells us about the direction of the Court.