Friday, June 29, 2007

Court rules out schools' racial balancing

Court rules out schools' racial balancing
By Patti Waldmeir in Washington
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: June 29 2007 03:00 | Last updated: June 29 2007 03:00

A sharply divided US Supreme Court yesterday ruled that race alone could not be used to determine where children go to school, a ruling that could affect millions of American pupils.

In one of its most important decisions on race in years, the court ruled unconstitutional the practice of "racial balancing", a tool used by thousands of US school districts to seek integration of the country's still largely segregated schools.

Ruling 5-4 on the last day of its term, the court's conservative majority - led by the new conservative chief justice, John Roberts, appointed by President George W. Bush - struck down voluntary integration programmes, which had been challenged primarily by white parents who complained their children were harmed by them. The programmes used race as an important factor in selecting students for popular schools.

The ruling marks a significant shift for the Supreme Court, which only three years ago said universities could consider race in making admissions decisions.

Writing for the conservative wing of the court, Chief Justice Roberts said choosing students by race violated the constitution's equal protection clause, which outlaws most racial discrimination by government.

He drew explicit parallels with race-based schooling that existed before the historic Brown v Board of Education Supreme Court ruling, which struck down school segregation more than 50 years ago.

"Before Brown, schoolchildren were told where they could and could not go to school based on the colour of their skin," he wrote. "The school districts in these cases have not carried the heavy burden of demonstrating that we should allow this once again - even for very different reasons."

"The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race," he wrote.

However the fifth member of the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy, wrote separately to limit the scope of the decision. He said districts could try to foster integration, but should find subtler methods such as strategic site selection for new schools and attendance zones that take into account neighbourhood demographics.

Liberals in the court attacked the conservatives for betraying the Brown ruling. In a dissent read from the bench, Justice Stephen Breyer said: "The last half-century has witnessed great strides toward racial equality, but we have not yet realised the promise of Brown. This is a decision that the court and the nation will come to regret."

The Alliance for Justice, a liberal group that opposed the nomination of Chief Justice Roberts and his fellow Bush appointee, Justice Samuel Alito, said the new justices had violated assurances given at their confirmation hearings.

They had "taken the first opportunity they had to undercut the reasoning of that landmark case", it said, adding: "By barring public school districts from assigning students on the basis of race, the court has undone years of precedent and disregarded settled federal law."

1911 ruling on minimum-price pacts overturned

The US Supreme Court yesterday overturned a near century-old antitrust precedent, ruling that manufacturers sometimes can agree with retailers on minimum prices for products, writes Patti Waldmeir.

Ruling 5-4, the court said an agreement on a price floor for a product was legal if it promoted competition, and illegal if it did not. Courts will have to evaluate accusations of minimum pricing pacts case by case. The ruling will allow manufacturers in some circumstances to tell distributors and retailers what the resale price of products will be.

The Supreme Court said in 1911 that such minimum price agreements violated federal antitrust law. Consumer advocates say ending the automatic ban will lead to higher consumer prices by hurting discounters and internet resellers seeking to offer cheaper ways to distribute products.

But Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, said thatsuch agreements might be good for competition and could "give consumersmore options to choose among low-price,low-service brands; high-price, high-service brands; and brands falling in between".

Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the dissent, said: "The only safe predictions to make about today's decision are that it will likely raise the price of goods at retail."


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