Indeed, the consequences of the approach the Court takes today are serious. Yesterday, the plans under review were lawful. Today, they are not. Yesterday, the citizens of this Nation could look for guidance to this Court’s unanimous pronouncements concerning desegregation. Today, they cannot. Yesterday, school boards had available to them a full range of means to combat segregated schools. Today, they do not.
The Court’s decision undermines other basic institutional principles as well. What has happened to stare decisis? The history of the plans before us, their educational importance, their highly limited use of race.all these and more.make clear that the compelling interest here is stronger than in Grutter. The plans here are more narrowly tailored than the law school admissions program there at issue. Hence, applying Grutter’s strict test, their lawfulness follows a fortiori. To hold to the contrary is to transform that test from ‘strict. to .fatal in fact..the very opposite of what Grutter said. And what has happened to Swann? To McDaniel? To Crawford? To Harris? To School Committee of Boston? To Seattle School Dist. No. 1? After decades of vibrant life, they would all, under the plurality’s logic, be written out of the law.
And what of respect for democratic local decisionmaking by States and school boards? For several decades this Court has rested its public school decisions upon Swann’s basic view that the Constitution grants local school districts a significant degree of leeway where the inclusive use of race-conscious criteria is at issue. Now localities will have to cope with the difficult problems they face (including resegregation) deprived of one means they may find necessary.
And what of law’s concern to diminish and peacefully settle conflict among the Nation’s people? Instead of accommodating different good-faith visions of our country and our Constitution, today’s holding upsets settled expectations, creates legal uncertainty, and threatens to produce considerable further litigation, aggravating race related conflict.
And what of the long history and moral vision that the Fourteenth Amendment itself embodies? The plurality cites in support those who argued in Brown against segregation, and JUSTICE THOMAS likens the approach that I have taken to that of segregation’s defenders. See ante, at 39.41 (plurality opinion) (comparing Jim Crow segregation to Seattle and Louisville’s integration polices); ante, at 28.32 (THOMAS, J., concurring). But segregation policies did not simply tell schoolchildren .where they could and could not go to school based on the color of their skin,. ante, at 40 (plurality opinion); they perpetuated a caste system rooted in the institutions of slavery and 80 years of legalized subordination. The lesson of history, see ante, at 39 (plurality opinion), is not that efforts to continue racial segregation are constitutionally indistinguishable from efforts to achieve racial integration. Indeed, it is a cruel distortion of history to compare Topeka, Kansas, in the 1950’s to Louisville and Seattle in the modern day.to equate the plight of Linda Brown (who was ordered to attend a Jim Crow school) to the circumstances of Joshua McDonald (whose request to transfer to a school closer to home was initially declined). This is not to deny that there is a cost in applying .a state-mandated racial label.. Ante, at 17 (KENNEDY, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment). But that cost does not approach, in degree or in kind, the terrible harms of slavery, the resulting caste system, and 80 years of legal racial segregation.
* * *
Finally, what of the hope and promise of Brown? For much of this Nation’s history, the races remained divided. It was not long ago that people of different races drank from separate fountains, rode on separate buses, and studied in separate schools. In this Court’s finest hour, Brown v. Board of Education challenged this history and helped to change it. For Brown held out a promise. It was a promise embodied in three Amendments designed to make citizens of slaves. It was the promise of true racial equality.not as a matter of fine words on paper, but as a matter of everyday life in the Nation’s cities and schools. It was about the nature of a democracy that must work for all Americans. It sought one law, one Nation, one people, not simply as a matter of legal principle but in terms of how we actually live.
Not everyone welcomed this Court’s decision in Brown. Three years after that decision was handed down, the Governor of Arkansas ordered state militia to block the doors of a white schoolhouse so that black children could not enter. The President of the United States dispatched the 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock, Arkansas, and federal troops were needed to enforce a desegregation decree. See Cooper v. Aaron, 358 U. S. 1 (1958). Today, almost 50 years later, attitudes toward race in this Nation have changed dramatically. Many parents, white and black alike, want their children to attend schools with children of different races. Indeed, the very school districts that once spurned integration now strive for it. The long history of their efforts reveals the complexities and difficulties they have faced. And in light of those challenges, they have asked us not to take from their hands the instruments they have used to rid their schools of racial segregation, instruments that they believe are needed to overcome the problems of cities divided by race and poverty. The plurality would decline their modest request.
The plurality is wrong to do so. The last half-century has witnessed great strides toward racial equality, but we have not yet realized the promise of Brown. To invalidate the plans under review is to threaten the promise of Brown. The plurality’s position, I fear, would break that promise. This is a decision that the Court and the Nation will come to regret.
I must dissent.