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Page Background on Disparate Impact

In Texas Dept. of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, the state of Texas challenged the longstanding principle that the Fair Housing Act prohibits both intentional discrimination and unjustified policies that discriminate in practice. The latter principle, known in the law as “disparate impact,” has been crucial in knocking down arbitrary barriers to fair housing based on race, national origin, religion, gender, familial status, and disability.

Apr 17 2015
Blog Post Supreme Court Argument Reaffirms the Case for Disparate Impact

Washington Post editorial quote

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments last week in a very important fair housing case, and the justices’ comments from the bench have had court watchers buzzing ever since. Here’s my take on what the legal back-and-forth in the case does and does not mean.

Jan 29 2015
Blog Post Arizonans Widely Support the DREAM Act In Contrast to Governor Brewer's Stance

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer. Photo by Resolution Copper (Flickr, All Rights Reserved)

Andrew Johnson contributed to this post

On August 16, Arizona’s Governor Jan Brewer signed an executive order to block state benefits, including driver licenses for recipients of Deferred Action--a new federal government program that reflects the goals of the Dream Act to temporarily delay deportation for undocumented immigrants who moved to the U.S. before the age of 16 and are currently 30 years old or younger.

Despite the Governor’s claim that this is what the citizens of Arizona want, nearly three-quarters of Arizonans (73%), regardless of their race, ethnicity and party affiliation support the DREAM Act, which would allow undocumented immigrants who graduate from college or serve in the military to become U.S. citizens (Marist Poll, April 2012).


Aug 17 2012
Page Legal and Policy Analysis: Human Rights in State Courts 2011

Since the last version of this report was released, state court litigants in the United States have continued using international human rights law in their arguments. Many of these cases have been met with cursory dismissals from the court, especially in death penalty cases. At the same time, courts have seriously considered some arguments, and occasionally use international law affirmatively as persuasive authority for the interpretation of state constitutions, statutes, and common law.

Jul 15 2011
Page Telebriefing: Tracking the Crackdown - June 15, 2011

On June 15, New America Media and The Opportunity Agenda hosted a telephonic news briefing on efforts to amend the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to deny birthright citizenship to any child born in the United States to parents who are undocumented immigrants. This proposed change specifically targets immigrant women.

Jun 17 2011
Blog Post A Call to End Indefinite Detention


Photo by Mark Fischer

The right to due process under the law is a cornerstone of America’s commitment to freedom and fairness. Protections against unfair imprisonment, mistreatment by law enforcement officials, and indefinite detention—guaranteed by the 5th and 6th amendments of the Constitution—are rights that no one living in the United States would or should be expected to go without.

Jun 7 2011
Blog Post Supreme Court Decision Restores a Sense of Fairness to Criminal Immigration Proceedings

Prior to the Supreme Court's recent decision in Carachuri-Rosendo v. Holder, many legal U.S. residents who had committed minor misdemeanors were unfairly classified as having committed "aggravated felonies" under immigration law, which subjected them to automatic deportation. The Supreme Court took note of the unfair deprivation of due process and took a strong stance in support of human rights when it corrected the deportation requirement for minor drug offenses.

Jun 17 2010
Blog Post The Case for a Constitutional Visionary

The conventional wisdom is that President Obama’s nominee to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens won’t change the Supreme Court much, since Justice Stevens is part of the Court’s progressive wing and President Obama’s choice is likely to be of a similar stripe. That thinking is dead wrong.

Apr 20 2010
Blog Post Corporate Cash Breeds Inequality

When the founding fathers gathered to declare independence, they were responding to consolidated power in the form of the monarchy and the church.  The system that they designed to govern the United States was intentionally complex and diffuse, with checks and balances in place to prevent any single individual or group from exerting undue influence over the process.  This past Thursday, with their ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court violated these intentions, enhancing the influence of a small handful of very powerful institutions and providing them with the tools to crowd out diverse voices.

Jan 26 2010
Blog Post High-Stakes of Stupak-Pitts Amendment for Women of Color

A few Saturdays ago, on November 7th, I was at the annual SisterSong meeting, a gathering of about 300 reproductive justice advocates. What was exhilarating and unusual about this meeting was that the vast majority of people attending were women of color who are focused on gender and sexuality issues. This was a fantastic event that showcased and harnessed the power of women of color, a group often portrayed as politically and socially marginalized.

Nov 24 2009
Blog Post The Big Picture: Health, Justice, and Abortion

As the United States government prepares for further personnel shifts in the administration, Americans are anxious to know the nominees' priorities. How refreshing, then, to see health and justice for the American people trump politics. As Judge Sotomayor faces the scrutiny of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Obama has nominated Regina Benjamin to be the next Surgeon General-- America's "top doctor." Part of what will make, and has made, these women such phenomenal public servants is their refusal to be snagged by the issue of abortion.

Jul 20 2009
Blog Post A Voice in Society

A truly functional democracy depends on the ability of everyone to have a voice—a chance to contribute their views and perspectives, and to have them heard and respected.

That everyone be able to participate in public debate, in decisions that affect us, and to be part of the social and cultural life of that nation is essential to our ability to achieve our full potential, as individuals and together.

Jun 26 2009
Blog Post Counting All Votes

An equal right to vote is at the core of our democracy. With an African American in the White House, it’s increasingly popular to believe that racial bias no longer exists, especially when it comes to voting. There’s no doubt that our nation has made significant progress in securing equal opportunity, but there’s still a long way to go. That’s why it was so important that the Supreme Court left in tact a key provision of the Voting Rights Act earlier this week.

Jun 24 2009
Blog Post Real Choices for Reproductive Justice

It is certainly an important time for America's discussions of health, but also an important time to talk about equality in America as it relates to access to reproductive health care.

Jun 15 2009
Video Alan Jenkins on MSNBC Discussing the Sotomayor Nomination

Alan Jenkins, executive director of The Opportunity Agenda and former Supreme Court law clerk, weighs in on President Obama's nomination to the Supreme Court. Speaking on MSNBC, Jenkins shares the rich experience Sonia Sotomayor can bring to the Court, and how she is a symbol of opportunity for all.

May 26 2009
Blog Post The Power of a Diverse Supreme Court

In nominating Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, the President has made good on his promise to appoint someone with stellar qualifications and intellect who understands the experiences of everyday Americans. Raised in a Bronx housing project by her widowed single mother, Sotomayor graduated summa cum laude from Princeton and has had a remarkable legal career as a prosecutor, a private attorney, a trial court judge, and an appellate judge.

May 26 2009
Law and Policy Brief of The Opportunity Agenda as Amicus Curiae in Ricci v. DeStefano (2009)

The Opportunity Agenda filed an amicus brief  with the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Ricci v. DeStefano.  In this case, the City of New Haven, CT, declined to certify the results of a firefighter promotion test based on evidence that the test was discriminatory in its operation, and fairer and more effective tests were available.  Firefighters who scored highly on the flawed test sued the city, claiming that throwing out the test discriminated against them based on their race.

May 10 2009
Communications Talking Points: The Supreme Court's School Diversity Cases (2007)

We recommend using the following messages to communicate the importance of pursuing inclusion in our schools, and outline the valid options for doing so.

Jan 29 2009
Blog Post Thursday Immigration Blog Roundup

•    Last week, The Opportunity Agenda's Immigration Blog Roundup linked to an Of América posting about the Guantanamo-like treatment of individuals held at ICE detention facilities.  The latest Breakthrough video titled “Death by Detention” documents individuals’ stories of their horrific experiences at these facilities.  The video has been posted on numerous pro-migrant blogs, including Standing FIRM.

•    Immigration News Daily has posted an editorial titled “No Getting Around the Wall.”  The editorial, which originally appeared in La Opinión, condemns the Supreme Court for refusing to hear a challenge to the Department of Homeland Security decision to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.  Numerous Arizona environmental organizations have claimed that the DHS ignored 36 environmental protection laws in deciding to construct the wall:

Once again, as in the case of the "mismatch letters" and other similar actions, the Bush Administration is trying to improvise an immigration policy without taking into account the consequences triggered, the rights violated, or the injustices committed.

Building a wall along the border is bad policy. As long as it continues, the courts have the responsibility to stop the abuse of authority that stems from its implementation.

•    Wednesday’s Immigration Equality Blog posting calls attention to a USA Today story describing how U.S. citizens are suing the DHS after they were detained and interrogated by ICE workers.  The plaintiffs in the suit claim that they were subject to racial profiling and that ICE officials violated workers rights in the process of detaining people.  One immigrant worker, Jesus Garcia, was thrown in jail because of the ICE agents’ “mistake”:

ICE agents went to Jesus Garcia's home on April 16 in conjunction with a raid on a nearby Pilgrim's Pride poultry processing plant, where he worked marinating chicken meat. Garcia, from Mexico, has been a legal permanent resident for a year and a half. When about 10 ICE agents and local sheriff's deputies knocked on his door, they told him he was using the wrong Social Security number, says his wife, Olivia Garcia, a U.S. citizen.

Though Garcia showed the agents his green card, they handcuffed him and jailed him. He was released a day and a half later after agents told him he wasn't the person they wanted, he says. He had spent the night in jail. "He said it was pretty bad," Olivia says. "People were crying and screaming."

•    A story that appeared in Medical News Today and was initially reported by the Ventura County Star examines California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s decision to save $87 million in the state’s Medicaid program (“Medi-Cal”) by cutting funding for health care services to approximately 91,000 immigrants each month:

Immigration advocates say the cuts would prevent patients from obtaining preventive care, thus increasing emergency department visits and costs. State Assembly and Senate budget committees have voted against the proposals and other Medi-Cal changes, but state officials say they will continue to push for the cuts.

Jun 26 2008
Blog Post Supreme Court Decision Offers Mixed Results for Immigration Reform

In a victory for immigrants’ rights, the Supreme Court handed down a decision allowing immigrants to file motions without fear of being deported for not voluntarily departing within a specific time period.  The case, Dada v. Mukasey addressed two conflicting sections of the Immigration and Nationality Act.  Section 1229c allows judges to grant immigrants who are told to deport the country permission to leave voluntarily within a specific period of time.  However, Section 1229a allows individuals to challenge a deportation order (in the event of any changed circumstances) but requires them to remain in the country while legal motions are pending.

The petitioner, Samson T. Dada, an immigrant from Nigeria, was married to an American citizen in 1999.  However, without adequate proof of marriage, the Department of Homeland Security alleged that he had overstayed his temporary immigrant visa and ordered his deportation.  An Immigration Judge granted Dada’s request to voluntarily leave the country within 30 days, a decision that the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) affirmed.  However, two days before he was supposed to leave, Dada found conclusive proof of his marriage, withdrew his request for voluntary departure and filed a motion to reopen his removal proceedings.  The BIA denied his request, claiming that Dada had failed to depart the U.S. within the allotted time period (while ignoring Dada’s withdrawal of his request to voluntarily leave).  The Fifth Circuit affirmed the BIA’s decision.

Jun 24 2008
Blog Post The Return of Redemption
  • Alan Jenkins' newest opinion piece is live on TomPaine.com. Entitled 'The Return of Redemption,' the piece contextualizes the recent crack sentencing ruling as well as the end of the death penalty in New Jersey as part of a larger shift in American values:

Together, these decisions reflect decades of difficult lessons:
about the folly of locking away people convicted of low-level,
non-violent offenses for decades; about how seemingly neutral policies
can have gravely discriminatory effects; and about the ineffectual,
discriminatory and dangerously inaccurate nature of the death penalty.

But information alone rarely leads to policy change, especially when
it comes to criminal justice policy. That political leaders could even
consider these changes in an election year speaks to a shift in public
values as well as public understanding. Each reform reflects a return
to the values of redemption and equality that are essential to a fair
and effective criminal justice system, and that polls and politics show are on the rise in our country.

  • RaceWire has shared a LA Times article on California's new plan for universal health care, a measure negotiated by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Assembly Speaker Fabian
    Nuñez (D-Los Angeles). On Monday the state Assembly approved the first phase of a
    $14.4-billion plan to extend medical insurance to nearly all residents by 2010. The legislation will provide subsidies and tax
    credits for people who have trouble paying their health insurance
  • Pam's House Blend has posted about a student at Southern Utah University who was denied housing because he is transgender. The university, which offers separate housing for men and women, demanded that Kourt Osborn provide the following in order to live in male housing:
  • a letter from the doctor that monitors his hormone treatment;
  • a letter from his therapist saying that he has gender identity disorder, or gender dysphoria; and
  • official documentation that he has had sexual reassignment surgery.

Like many transgender people, Osborn isn't interested in surgery or a clinical diagnosis of his 'disorder.' The post compares Osborn's situation with that of people of mixed racial backgrounds in decades past:

"When people do not fit into a structured, discriminatory and
binary system, the chances of discrimination against that person goes up."

Such is the case with Kourt. He is a person who does not fit into
society’s tidy binary system on gender. Because he has transgressed
society’s gender rules, the discrimination he faces on a daily basis —
including the denial of housing at a public university — is very real
and hardly ever subtle.

  • Finally, Firedoglake published a piece on media reporting (or lack thereof) on torture  in the United States. Blogger PhoenixWoman received a story in her email entitled CIA photos 'show UK Guantanamo detainee was tortured' from Britain's The Independent, which details the existence of photographic evidence proving that British citizen Binyam Mohammed has been abused while in American custody.  Mohammed's lawyers in the UK have expressed their worry that the photos will be destroyed, given the CIA's recent destruction of "hundreds of hours of videotapes showing the torture of detainees held by the US." Interestingly, while US-based CommonDreams.org has also picked up this story, Google News did not provide any matches for the article.
Dec 19 2007
Blog Post Americans Care Deeply About Human Rights

Today is International Human Rights Day, celebrated across the
world to mark the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
by the United Nations in 1948. While the topic of human rights is
frequently in the news, mainstream media coverage of human rights
invariably describes violations in faraway lands: censorship in China,
repression in Myanmar. Social injustice in our country, when it enters
the public discourse, is almost never discussed in terms of fundamental
human rights.

But a new national poll conducted by The Opportunity Agenda and
sponsored by The Nation reveals that Americans care deeply about human
rights here at home. They see human rights as crucial to who we are as
a country, and they worry that we are not living up to those principles
in our national policies and practices.

  • The Real Cost of Prisons Weblog wrote about yesterday's Supreme Court decision on crack sentencing. The ruling, which is a victory for criminal and racial justice, allows for judges to use their discretion in imposing shorter prison sentences than the previously mandatory five-year minimum. The Our Rights, Our Future blog explains how the sentencing guidelines on crack have targeted black communities:

"The crack cocaine and powdered cocaine disparity is outrageous: the law
sets a mandatory minimum five-year prison sentence for trafficking in 5
grams of crack cocaine or 100 times as much cocaine powder.  The effect
on communities of color is disastrous because 85 percent of those
punished for crack crimes in federal court are African American."

  • Finally, in immigration news, the Texas border town of Laredo will be setting up its annual rest stop for migrants going to Mexico for the holidays.  According to a Star-Telegram article, this year's assistance is especially important given changes in federal regulations on January 31st which will require all Americans re-entering the country to carry proof of citizenship.

"Every year, roughly 90,000 immigrants pass through Laredo on their way
home for the holidays, some coming from as far as the Midwest or
California. For the last 10 years, the city convention and visitor's
bureau has opened a rest stop with the Mexican General Consulate to
help travelers ensure they have the right documents and to help check
goods headed to Mexico to quicken entry at the border port."

Dec 11 2007
Blog Post Today is Human Rights Day
  • Human Rights Day commemorates the adoption and proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948.  This year, a number of human rights organizations in the US have chosen today's date to launch their "shadow reports" intended to supplement the United States' report on International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, or CERD.
  • The ImmigrationProf Blog has posted about two newly-released reports. The first, by Human Rights Watch, details the Department of Homeland Security's " inadequate care and treatment of immigrant detainees with HIV/AIDS." The second, by the ACLU and other San Diego-based organizations, reveals "patterns of neglect and instances of abuse of some of the
    area's most vulnerable populations--especially Latino immigrants and
    the indigent--in the rescue and relief efforts" during and after last month's wildfires.
  • Other immigration blogs have shared a series of news articles about families being torn apart as a result of recent immigration crackdowns. Immigration News Daily posted on fears in an Oklahoma town in which the number of Latino children attending school is decreasing after the implementation of harsh new legislation targeting those transporting undocumented immigrants.  And the 'Just News' blog reposted a Dallas Morning News article about one Texas family's struggle to stay together and to provide stability and security their young children:

"Mirian Villalobos had plenty going for her. The 25-year-old had a
dimpled son, a handsome husband, a new house, and a happy suspicion she
was pregnant again.

Then, it unraveled.

a balmy Sept. 6 in Wilmer, outside Dallas, she was pulled over by the
police as she rode on the back of a motorcycle driven by her husband,
30-year-old Juan Espinoza. She was stopped for not wearing a helmet,
but a routine check of her record found an arrest warrant. She'd been
ordered to report for deportation in 2002.

Caught in the middle:
an infant named Kevin Isaac, born a U.S. citizen with a father in the
U.S. legally and a mother in the U.S. illegally. Ms. Villalobos was

Unable to bear the separation from her son, now 9 months old, she returned to the U.S. in November and was detained in Arizona.

On Thursday she was deported again to Honduras – without seeing her young son and now six months pregnant, her husband says.

story is one echoing through many families with mixed immigration
status, as a crackdown on illegal immigrants cleaves communities."

  • The DMI Blog has written about a man slated for the death penalty in Alabama.  While Tommy Arthur's execution has been postponed while the Supreme Court considers the constitutionality of lethal injection, Arthur insists that is innocent of the murder for which he has been convicted and already served twenty-five years in prison.  Alabama's governor Bob Riley, however, has refused to grant DNA testing in the case in spite of the presence of biological evidence that would confirm or disprove guilt. The Innocence Project has set up an email feature on their website to advise Governor Riley that it is absolutely critical to know the truth before condemning someone to death.
Dec 10 2007
Blog Post Undocumented Immigrant Honored in Arizona
  • Latina Lista wrote about yesterday's ceremony in Arizona to honor Manuel Jesus Cordova Soberanes, the man who saved the eight-year-old boy who spent a night in the desert after his mother died in a car accident. Given that Cordova gave up his opportunity to find work in order to ensure the boy's safety, "U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz. wants to reward Manuel for his
    selfless act of kindness with a special visa that would allow him to
    come to work in the US."  Grijalva's aide Ruben Reyes admitted the chances of having a such visa issued are slim, but spoke of the importance of recognizing Cordova's generosity:

"We think he actually brings another tone into the
discussion of immigration. Unfortunately the discussion of immigration
is (mostly) negative but with his acts of heroism it counters so many
of the other negative aspects," Reyes said. "It brings a face of
dignity, humanity and a bond that the two countries can share and he's
a shining example of that."


There is no doubt Manuel is that and so much more when you compare
him to the critics of illegal immigrants in this country whose rhetoric
is violent and hate-filled.

Yet, if Rep. Grijalva really wanted to help Manuel, why not award
the man enough money to help him do something constructive in his
hometown so that he doesn't have to leave his own children again?

Grijalva already knows the chances for a special visa are next to
nil for passage. So, basically the Congressman is dangling another
false hope in front of Manuel to give the appearance of helping him
when in reality, he's not.

And in the end, Manuel will still have disappointment and poverty — along with, a certificate of heroism.

  • The Inteligenta Indiĝena Indigenismo Novaĵoservo blog reposted a New York Times article on 'Brazilians Giving Up Their American Dream.'  Hundreds of middle-class Brazilians who had immigrated to the US years ago in search of social and economic security are now choosing to return to Brazil.  For undocumented Brazilians, life has become too difficult to justify the risk of staying, when they are unable to obtain driver's licenses and there is no comprehensive immigration reform in sight.  As the American dollar loses value and Brazil's economy is booming, it seems only logical to follow the job opportunities back to the Southern hemisphere.
  • Too Sense has given us an update on the Jena Six case: While it looks like the six students will all be accepting plea bargain agreements, the victim of the beating has just brought suit against "the adults accused of beating him, the families of the juveniles
    allegedly involved and the board of the school where the attack
  • Prometheus 6 linked to a Birmingham News article about the local school district's decision to acquire and distribute 15,000 of the new $200 XO laptops which were created to increase computer access in the developing world. According to they city's mayor Larry Langford, "We live in a digital age, so it is important that all our children
    have equal access to technology and are able to integrate it into all
    aspects of their lives...we are proud that Birmingham
    is on its way to eliminating the so-called 'digital divide' and to
    ensuring that our children have state-of-the-art tools for education." While the laptops are available for purchase in the US (for every laptop bought, another goes to a child in a developing country), this is the first reported large-scale purchase for use within the country -- and one which highlights inequalities in access to technology within our nation.
  • The Huffington Post has reported on today's Supreme Court hearing on "whether the detainees at Guantánamo have habeas corpus rights - a
    cornerstone of civilization and a principle established 800 years ago
    in England, giving prisoners the right to challenge the basis of their
    detention in court."  The ACSBlog is also covering the case, which is a matter concerning basic human rights in America.
Dec 5 2007
Blog Post ICE Detention Center Employed Undocumented Immigrants
Nov 2 2007
Blog Post Equality in Immigration, Schools, and the Workplace
  • One piece of not-so-good news and then we're on to a happier day: The 'Just News' Blog and the LA Times report that a lawsuit has been filed by the ACLU to "stop immigration authorities from forcibly drugging deportees in
    order to send them back to their home countries on commercial airlines."  It seems this process may be quite widespread, as at least fifty-two people are known to have been drugged over a period of seven months, the majority of which had never shown any signs of psychiatric illness. ACLU attorney Ahilan T. Arulanantham aptly sums up the situation: "It's both medically
    inappropriate and shocking that the government believes it can treat
    immigrants like animals and shoot them up with powerful anti-psychotic
    drugs that can be fatal -- without a doctor's examination or court
    oversight." This type of practice does not support the equality and mobility that our country values; hopefully the lawsuit and media attention will bring an end to these stories of human rights denied.
  • Next, The Border Line and The New York Times have reported on a school district in Union City, New Jersey using iPods in class to help students with limited English proficiency learn to sing along to English-language music, working on their grammar and vocabulary in the process. This innovative style of teaching has been accelarating the students' move out of bilingual classes. NYU sociology professor Pedro Noguera agrees: “You
    know the No. 1 complaint about school is that it’s boring because the
    traditional way it’s taught relies on passive learning....It’s not interactive enough.”  It's great to see new media being used as an educational tool; while there is much value in cultural and linguistic diversity in our community, improved English skills will undeniably advance options for higher education and eventually work among our youth.
  • The ACSBlog reported on yesterday's Supreme Court decision that upheld the ability of parents of children with disabilities to be reimbursed for private school tuition even if their child never received public special education services.  When public schools do not offer appropriate programming for children with disabilities, children with special needs should have the opportunity to go elsewhere rather than first being forced to struggle in a public school setting.
  • Wrapping up, today is 'National Coming Out Day.'  The Human Rights Campaign has been promoting the event with a YouTube video contest, and Pam's House Blend has posted a video of her own along with notes on how to get involved in working for equal rights or even how to "come out" as a straight ally.  Bloggernista is doing a series of posts today on LGBT people of color and their coming out experiences. These discussions are particularly important this fall as Congress is considering the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a bill to extend fair workplace protections to LBGT Americans.  Government policies that safeguard employment are critical to upholding the shared value of security, that all people must have access to the means to provide for their own basic needs and those of their family.
Oct 11 2007
Blog Post Bush Vetoes, Spitzer Sues over Children's Health
  • This just in: President Bush has indeed vetoed the SCHIP legislation that recently passed through Congress seeking to expand funding for children's health care.  While the Senate had passed the bill with enough of a margin to override a veto, the House fell short. Representatives will be reconsidering their votes as our nation continutes to reflect on the values of individualism or community support. These values have tangible effects on the health of millions of children.
  • Yesterday, New York's Governor Eliot Sptizer announced that he is filing suit against the Bush administration over its new eligibility rules for children insured through the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).  The new guidelines refuse federal funding for states to insure children whose parents earn more than 250% of the povery line, which will force some states to cancel the enrollment of children already in the program. A number of states are on board with Spitzer, including New Hampshire, and New Jersey has filed a similar suit. Spitzer has posted his argument on the Huffington Post, saying of Bush's casual commentary that everyone has access to health care in the emergency room that "this politics of 'not my problem'...has led to the health crisis we have today."
  • Also on the SCHIP debate, Families USA has just released a new ad campaign entitled "Bush vs. Kids," showing a series of children talking about how nice and sweet they think the president is, overlayed with text about how Bush is doing his best to cut health care for 10 million children.

  • Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas has gotten a lot of media attention lately, between the launch of his new memoir and an interview on CBS '60 Minutes.'  The only African American member of the Supreme Court, Thomas has been controversial for his opposition to affirmative action policies and other progressive social reforms as well as his alleged sexual harassment of former employee Anita Hill.  Blogger Keith Boykin refers to Thomas as the "most dangerous black man in America," not dangerous to white America but to African Americans for his "record of disregard for the poor and minorities."
  • A federal judge in San Francisco again extended the ban against the mailing of the "no-match" letters by the Social Security administration.  President Bush and the Department of Homeland Security have mandated that employers receiving the 141,000 letters about discrencies in 8.7 million worker records sort out the mismatches within 90 days, fire their employees, or risk prosecution for knowingly hiring undocumented workers. The judge has indicated that he is disinclined to allow the letters to be sent, arguing that known inaccuracies in the federal database would cause irreparable harm to American businesses and to workers.
  • As the 2010 census approaches, people are beginning to discuss its effects on and the effects of undocumented immigrants.  On one hand, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has stated that it has no intention of discontinuing raids during the census in the interest of obtaining more accurate records.  More recently, the there has been talk on the issue of whether or not to include undocumented workers in the count as it affects the reallotment of representation in the US House of Representatives.  Different states would gain or lose a voice in each case, although the means of defining how many are undocumented will likely be challenging given immigrants' general fear and distrust of government officials.
  • Lastly, Culture Kitchen has published a thought-provoking piece entitled Why I Hate Hispanic Heritage Month, which is celebrated from September 15th through October 15th. Latina blogger Liza outlines her dislike of the word 'hispanic' and the way it leads people to make unfounded assumptions about the history, culture and linguistic background of Latin Americans.
Oct 3 2007
Blog Post A Desegregation Hero

Our Executive Director, Alan Jenkins, has a new article up at Tom Paine in which he recounts a party honoring Judge Robert L. Carter and the implications of the recent Supreme Court cases in two voluntary school integration cases.

Last week I had the privilege of attending a tribute to a genuine American hero. The event honored Judge Robert L. Carter,
a prime architect of the Brown v. Board of Education desegregation
cases, a distinguished jurist, and a constitutional visionary. He
turned 90 this year and marked his 35th year as federal district court
judge sitting in New York City.

The evening's hosts were Theodore Shaw of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Professor Charles Ogletree of Harvard Law School's Charles Hamilton Houston Institute,
and renowned defense attorney Ted Wells. The crowd included a
remarkable assemblage of civil rights lawyers and luminaries, from
prominent figures like Lani Guinier and Derrick Bell to lesser-known
legal stars like Norman Chachkin and Judith Reed who, collectively,
have helped to transform American society through the lens of our
Constitution and laws.

The timing of the event was apt, as it came just weeks after the
Supreme Court's decision in voluntary school integration cases from
Louisville, Ky. and Seattle, Wash. The Court split 4-1-4, with Justice
Anthony M. Kennedy's controlling opinion endorsing affirmative efforts
to promote integration while narrowing the ways in which race may be
considered in doing so.

Aug 15 2007
Blog Post 1.6 million immigrants separated from families: Human Rights Watch new report
  • Human
    Rights Watch
    recently published a new report, “Forced Apart: Families Separated
    and Immigrants Harmed by United States Deportation Policy”
    ImmigrationProf Blog
    !). The report
    tracks immigrants’ deportation information between 1997 and 2005 (the most
    recent year for which data are publicly available). Based on the 2000 US Census, Human Rights Watch estimates that
    approximately 1.6 million spouses and children living in the US were separated
    from their families because of these deportations. The report calls on the government for
    comprehensive immigration reform as a solution to prevent these deportations and the negative impact they have on the families of immigrants. Everyone deserves basic
    human rights, and this report highlights many of the ways in which the rights of undocumented workers
    have been violated
  • Latina
    reports on how Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s decision to pull the
    entire Defense Authorization Bill will have a negative impact on the children of immigrants.  As we reported earlier, elements of the DREAM Act had been added to the DoD Reauthorization as an amendment, and these provisions will no longer get an up or down vote in the Senate.  It is another defeat for even a small attempt at achieving humane immigration reforms.
  • AMERICABlog reports on Bush’s refusal to renew SCHIP (State
    Children’s Health Insurance Program), because “expanding the program would
    enlarge the role of the federal government at the expense of private
    insurance.”  This viewpoint reflects
    many flaws in the current administration's thinking about government: whatever the conservative base thinks, the role of government in health care
    access is not inherently negative. In
    fact, making the government more accountable for the problems in health care
    access and discrepancies in quality would improve the dismal state of health care in America.  More efficient and accountable government involvement can be represent a positive step forward for the millions of children who lack health care, particularly in a program as successful and beloved as SCHIP.

For your entertainment, two videos on immigration:

  • As posted by Immigration Equality,
    Bill O’Reilly mouths off to Immigration Equality Executive Director Rachel Tiven
    on the issues of immigration and opportunity. Tiven argues for the right for members of gay and lesbian couples to
    sponsor their partners who are citizens of foreign countries, just as straight couples do.
  • Struggle Within posts a music video as a response to the
    Supreme Court schools’ decision, explaining the inequalities people of color
    face when the government hinders their educational rights.
Jul 19 2007
Blog Post Does socioeconomic balancing also integrate schools?
  • Prometheus 6 links to a New York Times article
    about the
    success (or lack thereof) in using socioeconomic status as an indirect
    method to integrate public schools. School officials in the San
    Francisco public schools have found that the district is actually
    resegregating by using the type of plan many districts may try in light
    of the
    recent Supreme Court ruling. As many as
    40 districts around the country are already trying these plans. The
    article compares successes in many of
    these districts across the country.  After realizing the failure of
    using income to integrate schools,
    David Campos, the general counsel to the school district, is looking
    for loopholes through Justice Kennedy's statement if methods not based
    on race fail. For
    more updates on the status of the country’s integration attempts, check out the
    NAACP Legal Defense Fund page, as well as The Opportunity Agenda’s talking points.
  • Immigrants in the USA Blog posts a column from The
    Bakersfield Californian
    with a different perspective on the DREAM Act, a
    legislative bill which would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented
    immigrant students, thus making them eligible to receive in-state financial aid
    from colleges.  Author Leonel Martinez
    argues that children should not be punished for their parents’ decision to immigrate.
  • Many immigrants are from poor
    families, and, he believes, should have access to college, which could make
    them greater contributors to society. The
    controversy over this act mirrors the “hysteria” thirty years ago in the
    controversy surrounding the Plyler v. Doe Supreme Court decision. In this ruling, the Supreme
    Court declared unconstitutional a Texas statute which charged certain families $1000 per year for school tuition,
    effectively preventing undocumented children from attending school. This article offers
    background on the case, comparing that situation to the atmosphere around
    immigration decisions today.
  • Ezra Klein writes about the hypocrisy in our criminal “justice”
    system by pointing out that while incarceration does separate dangerous individuals
    from society, in separating the millions of non-violent offenders, the system
    only reinforces their identity as criminals, and renders them unfit for many
    jobs. Klein cites economic studies which
    show that prison makes many inmates more violent. As incarceration rates in America skyrocket, more attention needs to be focused on rehabilitation –
    preparing inmates for society.  For more
    information about criminal justice, check out our fact

  • Immigration Equality Blog reports on another downloadable
    video game
    attempting to teach players about a societal issue: “ICED! I Can End
    Deportation!” Recently featured in the
    LA Times This 3D game teaches players about the unjust nature of U.S. immigration policy by following the day-to-day life of an immigrant teen as
    he/she encounters obstacles like being chased by immigration officers and
    answering myth & fact quizzes about current immigration policies. The point of the game is to avoid detention,
    which separates one from his/her family and forces unjust conditions. Check out
    our previous coverage of Games for Change.

  • In the Huffington Post, David Sirota responds to New York
    Governor Eliot Spitzer’s plan
    to expand health coverage to nearly three million
    more residents in an attempt to ultimately provide universal health
    insurance. While expanding access to a
    greater population is a good first step, it fails to ensure that all insured people are getting the same quality of care.  Access is a problem, but so are racial disparities in quality of care, and
    comprehensive health care reform needs to address these equity issues to ensure that the vulnerable populations aren’t left
    behind.  Check out healthcarethatworks.org for an example of quality care and access.

Jul 16 2007
Blog Post How will a new progressive blog fare in the big issues?


  • Huffington Post offers side-by-side assessments of the U.S.
    Presidential Candidates’ health plans in easy-to-read charts.
  • As a new progressive blog opens its doors, Jack and Jill
    ask some pertinent questions about race and religion in the
    blogosphere, and how blogggers who cover these topics can become more
    influential online and even make up for the shortcomings of "the Old
    Left.” Quoting eteraz’s Open Left Diary,
    Jack and Jill posts “The ultimate question is: race-conscious or race-blind;
    religion-conscious or religion-blind (referring only to those communities whose
    religion is already politicized); focus on under-represented people via
    minority-rights or economic-rights.”
  • To add to our previous posting on opinions following the Supreme Court schools decision, here are two more op-eds. NNPA Columnist George Curry reflects on the gains (or lack thereof) this country has made in desegregation since the 1954 Brown decision. Curry explains that this Supreme Court decision is just the latest in reversals of desegregation efforts.
  • Ron Walters takes Curry’s points one step farther in this Louisiana Weekly column, stating that the country has now returned to the
    “Separate but equal” doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896.

Jul 12 2007
Blog Post Schools Decision Feedback

        In the aftermath of the Supreme
Court’s decision on school integration plans in Seattle and Louisville, it seems as though everyone has an opinion. After a slower 4th of July week, here are the articles you might have


    Arguing against the ruling, Irene
    Monroe of the Windy City Times reports on the devastating effects of this
    decision: limiting our rights. She warns
    that a decision that declares separate facilities constitutional – 53 years after Brown – limits the rights of not only
    students of color, but also female, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and
    queer students. She cites a high school in New York City designed to offer a supportive environment for LGBTQ students that might be
    considered discriminatory under the latest ruling.

  • Describing another deleterious effect, Eric
    Mayes of the Philadelphia Tribune investigates how this ruling may affect
    teacher placement, since the district’s procedures stipulate that the racial
    balance of the schools applies to teachers as well. Therefore, African American and white
    teachers can only work at certain schools.  Many officials, however, see for the ruling as opening the door to end integration policies in their own districts.
  • As the Boston Globe reports,
    a new case has been filed to stop the 20-year desegregation policy in the Lynn School district in Massachusetts.   The attorneys in Lynn are following the blueprint Parents Involved in
    Community Schools, the public policy group behind the Seattle case.  For more information on that group, check out this LA Times
  • In the Seattle PI, Sharon Browne, one of the
    lawyers for the Pacific Legal Foundation, explains the reasons why the Seattle decision is
    a net positive for the city.

In addition to the many opinions
against this ruling, another group of writers believe in the constitutionality
of the decision.

  • David Brooks argues in The New York Times that integration is counter to human nature. Brooks argues that racial disparities
    in poverty still exist, and that even when income is standardized,
    neighborhoods are still segregated. Brooks ends his analysis by stating that “maybe integration is not in
    the cards.” (Thanks, Prometheus 6, for
    the tip!)
  • In the Washington Post, George F. Will explains how the decision takes the country back to the Brown mentality, and how the decision is
    a positive step.

In light of Justice
Kennedy’s discussion of alternative ways to diversify schools, many writers
advocate balancing socioeconomic status rather than race.

  • This New York Times article discusses the achievement gap between income levels. Poor neighborhoods often lack the resources
    to provide their children with equal education to neighboring, more affluent
    communities. Ted Shaw, president of the
    NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., acknowledges that using income
    levels won’t entirely substitute for achieving racial integration, but it’s a
    good start. (Thanks, Racialicious, for
    the tip!)
  • The Des Moines Register
    reiterates this idea in this article
    discussing the school districts which already utilize an integration plan that
    uses the socioeconomic status. Writer
    Matthew Schwieger argues that this constitutional way of allocating the
    students to different schools could be the solution to unfair disparities.

However, not all writers agree with this

  • In the Milwaukee Journal
    , School Board member Brian Dey explains that socioeconomic status in
    his district is identical to race, so using family incomes to place students
    still violates the Supreme Court decision.
  • Another solution to balancing
    schools comes from the Louisville Courier-Journal: charter schools. Writer Liam Julian
    argues that racial balance in the classroom is not as important as racial
    balance in achievement, and that charter schools give principals the freedom to
    make a truly effective school.

For more commentary on the ruling,
try Joel Achenbach’s
(of the Washington Post) anecdotal
of his own district’s integration tactics, or Newsweek’s post-decision

with Justice Kennedy. Also check out our
past coverage here.

Jul 10 2007
Blog Post School Decisions' Online Responses

     In light of the recent Supreme Court rulings in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District and Meredith V. Jefferson County Board of Ed et
, there has been some excellent dialogue in the online community. The most important conclusion to understand
from this decision is that it holds not only negative but also positive
implications for the nation and Constitution. As NAACP Legal Defense Fund reports, the decision does not reject the
use of race-conscious measures, and actual details ways in which school districts can
take steps to create racially and ethnically diverse schools. While voting against the school districts’
policies, Justice Kennedy responded in no uncertain terms that the ruling
should not imply that school districts should merely accept racial
isolation. He even gave examples of
affirmative measures schools can use. His response demonstrates that a majority of the court recognizes
educational diversity and overcoming our history of segregation to be
compelling government issues.

        However, it is disappointing that the Supreme Court ruled
against the policies Seattle, Washington and Louisville, Kentucky.  The Applied Research Center responds by looking at the underlying causes of such segregation, pointing to the
institutional discrimination against people of color in housing and
employment. As the DMI Blog and Black
reiterate, if we attempt to make policy on the assumption that the
government is or should be colorblind, we ignore the existing health, wealth and
society disparities, thus invoking a whole new form of racism.  As a country, we haven't fully recovered from decades of legal discrimination and segregation.  So letting things "run their course" now, and declaring that colorblind policies are best is premature, short-sighted and unlikely to protect our country's core value of ensuring opportunity for everyone.

        For more blog coverage, try the ACS blog, SCOTUS blog, firedoglake, and these previous entries (here and here). In addition, consider The
Opportunity Agenda’s talking points in interpreting the decision.

Jun 29 2007
Blog Post Daily Blog Round-Up 6/13/07: Part 2
  • The Washington Post discusses the sub par health care that
    many undocumented workers receive while serving jail time with the U.S.
    Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Lawyers
    are currently investigating numerous claims on behalf of undocumented workers who
    were taken into custody with minor illnesses and released with life-threatening
    infections. The ACLU stated that
    detainees often have poor English skills, don’t know their rights and have no
    access to counsel; another example of how our current system fails to treat both immigrants or those enmeshed in the criminal justice system fairly and humanely.
  • In an update to previous coverage of the 5-4 Supreme
    Court decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire, ACS Blog reports on the House Committee on Education
    and Labor held a hearing today to consider restoring anti-discriminatory
    protections for workers. Leadership
    Conference on Civil Rights’ Wade Henderson stated before the committee that this
    outcome is “fundamentally unfair to victims of pay discrimination” and that the
    outcome “ignores the realities of the workplace.”
  • Huffington Post reports with more information on the Dreams
    Across America
    project (refer to our previous posting): an immigrants’ rights
    group using Web 2.0 to put a human face on immigration and advocated for comprehensive positive reform that expands opportunity for all in America. As
    ImmigrationProf adds, the opposition to legalization is strong, with
    grassfire.org sending 700,000 faxes and emails and making 1 million personal
    contacts with Senators. Groups like
    Dreams Across America, with innovative, online strategies, are necessary to combat these
    opposition organizations that are rallying online.
Jun 13 2007
Blog Post Daily Blog Round-Up 6/5/07
  • Ezra Klein reports on a few different immigration issues,
    including the results from the recent Washington Post poll indicating a clear
    majority in favor of a few aspects of the immigration bill debated in Congress
    right now on both sides of the aisle. Klein debates the point that guest workers would harm
    American workers, stating that there would only be small downward effects on
    native wages, if any. Klein has a point, but for those looking to build support for comprehensive reform, it is more important to think
    of native workers and immigrants as a united force, sharing many common
    aspirations for their families. By
    stratifying the types of jobs each group can and “should” do, the greater
    purpose of becoming a community is left behind in favor of pointing
  • Migra Matters
    continues the discussion on immigration by explaining the current state of
    affairs in Congress, stating that it appears as though the bill will not be
    struck down. For those looking for a good breakdown, Miagra Matters
    highlights the 14 current amendments proposed and how they would affect the final legislation.
  • The Real Cost of Prisons Weblog cites a New York Times
    about racial bias that occurs in jury selection. While it is illegal to turn away
    a possible juror based only on race, many lawyers use other excuses to reject
    black jurors. In a report of 390 felony
    jury trials from 1994 to 2002, the district attorney’s office turned away three
    times as many eligible black jurors as white ones. In these cases, while the racism is not
    explicit, the institutional racism still exists, but to a less obvious
    degree. This kind of racism results in a
    lack of public commitment to address social policies for equality, and
    obfuscates this important problem
  • Racialicious references an ABC News article arguing that
    children’s school settings impact their own racial exclusion. The report referenced a study of students of
    different ethnic and racial backgrounds and found that children with friends
    from different background were much more likely to say it is wrong to exclude
    someone because of their own race. In
    addition, in a follow-up analysis of white students, children in “mixed
    ethnicity” schools were much less likely to use racial stereotypes about
    children with different backgrounds. The
    study corroborated the explanations of the many Amicus briefs
    submitted in support of the school integration cases for the Supreme Court
    rulings in Seattle and Louisville, which can be found on the NAACP Legal Defense Fund website. These Amicus briefs consist of arguments from a plethora of
    organizations explaining why exclusion and school segregation is harmful for
    children, with arguments from such institutions such as the American
    Psychological Association, Anti-Defamation League, Historians, and the LA
    School District. The detrimental effects
    of segregation on school-aged children has been well-documented, and only with
    the Supreme Court’s decision to let the communities deal with integrating their
    districts themselves can we truly move toward equality.
Jun 6 2007
Blog Post Daily Blog Round-up
  • ACS blog reports on the 5-4 majority decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber, a case involving sex discrimination in the workplace.  While the gender wage gap has narrowed in the last 30 years, this decision only makes further advances more difficult.  The State of Opportunity in America (pdf) cites that in 2003, a women’s average wage was still only 81% of a man’s average wage.  By continuing to put such roadblocks in the path of possible equal opportunity employers, women and minority groups will have a much harder time fighting for equality in the workforce.
  • Prometheus 6 reports on Color of Change’s continuous efforts to unite the rising black blogosphere and the progressive netroots to combat the Congressional Black Caucus’s democratic debates on Fox News.  Color of Change is pioneering new forms of online activism for racial justice advocates.  Show your support by checking out their site.
  • DMI reports on senators' reactions to the recent immigration proposal (The Secure Borders, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Reform Act (pdf)) and to the NY Times/CBS poll showing a strong majority of American support for providing a path to citizenship for undocumented workers.  DMI discusses the senators' apparent disconnect with this majority, detailing two different amendments to the bill (introduced by Senators Vitter and Coleman), which would have created roadblocks to a compassionate pathway to citizenship that recognizes the contributions immigrants make to our country. 
May 30 2007
Blog Post Struggling to Get From Many to One

Alan's Jenkin's latest piece at Tom Paine is live:

Over 100 million people of color now live in the United States, the U.S. Census Bureau reported
last week, one-third of our population and a new milestone in our
nation’s diversity. Two important decisions currently facing our
federal government will help determine whether that diversity continues
to be one of America’s great strengths or is met with division and

Any day now, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide whether
voluntary school integration efforts by the communities of Louisville,
Kentucky and Seattle, Washington violate the Constitution. At the same
time, Congress is debating immigration reform legislation that will
determine how we treat the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants
in America, as well as future generations of legal immigrants. In each
case, government leaders should choose a future in which we move
forward together toward community and shared prosperity.

Read More.

May 22 2007
Blog Post A Bipartisan Civil Rights Legacy

Our executive director has a new op-ed posted at TomPaine.com.  Here's a snippet:

Forward-looking Republicans, Democrats and their constituents can
take a number of important steps in the spirit of Gerald Ford’s legacy
that will expand opportunity for all and lay a foundation for the next
president, whatever her or his party.

President Bush has nominated a series of anti-civil rights federal
judges who could dominate the judiciary for a generation. It’s time to
shut off that pipeline, and for the Senate to use its "advise and
consent" role to approve only candidates with a commitment to
protecting Americans’ constitutional rights, including the right to
equal protection under the law. Key to this change will be persuading
Arlen Specter, who serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee, to vote
his conscience, as he did when he voted against Robert Bork’s
nomination to the Supreme Court 20 years ago. Constituents of Senator
Specter and other moderate Republican senators should voice their
support for rigorous confirmation hearings and a message to the
President that only candidates who take our civil rights laws seriously
should receive a nomination, much less confirmation.

Jan 5 2007
Blog Post Mixed Messages from the Supreme Court

Many of us who attended Monday’s Supreme Court arguments in a pair of school integration cases are still reeling with a mix of emotions—pride, dejection, hope, and, at times, outrage. 

In these cases, the Court will decide whether modest, voluntary efforts by Louisville, Kentucky and Seattle, Washington to keep their schools diverse and inclusive somehow violate the Constitution.  It seems amazing that this question is even before the Court, but Monday’s argument made clear that even these meager, uncontroversial efforts are very much in jeopardy.

As we waited on line outside the Court, it was inspiring to see a huge crowd of students, parents, and other everyday folks marching in the cold to support integration. 

As the arguments proceeded, it was heartening to see Seattle and, especially, the formerly-segregated city of Louisville, vocally defending their right to protect inclusion and the promise of Brown vs. Board of Education. 

And it was stirring to hear Justice Breyer’s eloquent explanation of why careful efforts to promote integration fulfill the core purpose of the 14th Amendment and are clearly constitutional.

The Court’s other three moderate members—Justices Stevens, Souter, and Ginsberg—appear to agree with Justice Breyer that these communities’ efforts are not just constitutional, but vital to the future of our increasingly diverse and interconnected society.

All eyes, however, were on Justice Anthony Kennedy who, with the departure of Sandra Day O’Connor, is now the ideological center of the Court and the key swing vote in cases like these.  Justice Kennedy began his questioning (in the Seattle case, which was argued first) in measured tones that seemed to reflect an effort to balance competing interests.  But as the two hours wore on, the tone and content of his questions were often troubling. 

Perhaps most distressing, Justice Kennedy seemed actively resistant to the reality that promoting inclusive and integrated education—which he appears to support as a compelling governmental interest—necessarily requires an intentional consideration of the demographics of the students who attend the schools. 

Kennedy repeatedly asked about school siting decisions (i.e., locating new schools in places calculated to draw an integrated student body), magnet schools, and other strategies that he presumed to be less focused on student’s individual characteristics.   But, as the lawyers for Seattle and Louisville pointed out, those communities had tested and considered a range of efforts, and found them to be ineffective.  And, as we’ve seen in voting rights cases, the drawing of attendance zones (like electoral districts) still requires a consideration of individual demographics. 

More hopefully, Justice Kennedy seemed impressed with Louisville’s successful transition from a community with enforced segregation to one in which residents and their elected officials are actively choosing integration.

Ultimately, it seems the key to how these cases are decided, will be whether Justice Kennedy accepts the reality of what’s required to achieve integration in any meaningful way.

The argument also offered plenty to be angry about.  First, there was the Court’s rejection of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s request, as a litigating “friend of the court” in these cases, to share the school districts’ argument time—a request that the schools supported.  The absence of a voice for communities of color or civil rights—and the presence of the Bush Administration, which is opposing the integration plans—created a stunning scenario: Two city school districts (one of them segregated as late as 2000) arguing with dissenting white parents and an anti-civil rights Bush Administration about the future of integration in America.  That there was no racial or gender diversity among the lawyers arguing the case made the scene all the more stunning.

Also striking was the fact that the Seattle and Louisville lawyers—though able and committed—were not constitutional or civil rights experts, nor were they experienced Supreme Court litigators.  The eloquence and expertise of Ted Shaw, Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, was especially missed at the argument.

Another source of outrage was the hostile and at times offensive commentary of Justice Antonin Scalia.  No one was surprised that Justice Scalia believes these plans to be unconstitutional.  He has never voted to uphold a program designed to promote diversity or integration in education.  But the tenor and content of his comments in Monday’s case were, at times, breathtaking.  Most striking was his implication that only a white-controlled school board could be assumed to have benevolent motives in adopting an integration plan, while the same action by a majority-black school board would be inherently suspect.  The following exchange—between Justice Stevens, Justice Scalia, and Solicitor General Paul Clement (who presented the Bush Administration’s position) reflects a bit of Justice Scalia’s position:

GENERAL CLEMENT: Absolutely. And it also has some real world consequences when we decide we're not going to apply the normal scrutiny we would to racial classifications just because we've made some -- I don't know based on what judgment that in this case, it is benign, so we can trust the local school officials.

JUSTICE STEVENS: Well, it isn't that we've made a judgment, the local school board has made a judgment which has a lot of experience under both systems.

GENERAL CLEMENT: There's a lot of experience in Brown, too, and those were local school boards, too. And I think the lesson is --

JUSTICE SCALIA: Do we know the race of the school board here? I mean, that was not -- how do we know these are benign school boards? Is it stipulated that they are benign school boards?

GENERAL CLEMENT: I missed that in the joint stipulation, Justice Scalia.

You can hear the full oral argument of the Louisville case by clicking here, and the Seattle case by clicking here.

The other remarkable theme that we heard from Justice Scalia, the Solicitor General, and Chief Justice Roberts was that considering students’ race to promote integration and inclusion is the constitutional and moral equivalent of considering race to promote segregation and exclusion.  This is just the kind of twisted analysis, detached from our country’s past, present, and future, that many Americans feared when they opposed Roberts’ elevation to the position of Chief Justice.

Justice Alito, for his part, was more nuanced in his questions, focusing on the details of the two plans.  But his questions also seemed strongly to indicate that he believes these plans to be unconstitutional, at least in their specifics.

So how should we think and talk about these cases in the months before the Court announces its decision?  We think it’s important to:

  • Point out the flawed logic and constitutional theory that underlay many of the Justices’         questions—as well as the Bush Administration’s position;
  • Hold up the enlightened comments of Justice Breyer and his moderate colleagues on the Court; and
  • Communicate our hope that Justice Kennedy will come to grips with the real life implications of this case and its importance to the future of our nation.

Looking forward, it will be important to encourage communities to promote integration to the full extent allowed by the Court’s decision, once it’s announced.  And, beginning next year, it will be crucial to demand of the new leadership of the Senate Judiciary Committee that they refuse to confirm judicial nominees who do not show an understanding of our nation’s history and current reality, or of the proper role of the Equal Protection Clause.

Dec 6 2006
Blog Post Affirming School Diversity

This is a guest post by Robert Anthony Watts.

The (Seattle) plan does not segregate the races; to the contrary, it seeks to promote integration ... There is no competition between the races, and no race is given a preference over another ... The program does use race as a criterion, but only to ensure that the population of each public school roughly reflects the city’s racial composition.

--Judge Alex Kozinski, Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals
Appointed in 1985 by President Ronald Reagan

School officials and community leaders in Louisville, Kentucky (Jefferson County) have to be shaking their heads.

In 1975, Louisville was the scene of tumultuous, bitter civic strife as court-ordered busing was initiated to integrate the local schools. White parents rose up in furious opposition.  Buses carrying children were pelted by eggs and rocks. Police officers in helmets and riot gear worked overtime to protect buses and school children. The Ku Klux Klan held meetings and prominently took a role in opposing busing.

A funny thing happened in Louisville: the protests died down, tensions eased, and the idea of racially integrated schools gained wide support among blacks and among whites.  Over time Louisville school officials adjusted their plan to give parents much more choice and freedom in where their children attend schools.

In the history of school desegregation, the experience of the Jefferson County school district (the county and city merged its school districts in the early 1970’s) is one of the successes.  Indeed largely because of Jefferson County, Kentucky has the most integrated schools in the nation, according to the Harvard Civil Rights Project (pdf).

In 2000, the Jefferson County school district was released from federal court supervision after a judge concluded that it had removed “all vestiges” of segregation. Jefferson County could have returned to a “neighborhood” school plan. But given the prevailing pattern of housing segregation in Jefferson County (and in the nation), this option would have meant the end of integrated schools for 30,000 to 50,000 of the district’s 97,000 students.

What’s more, the community had come to desire integrated classes.  Parents wanted their children in classes with members of other groups.  Acting on its own, the Jefferson County school district decided to maintain its policy of creating integrated schools.

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a challenge to the Jefferson County diversity efforts and to similar efforts in Seattle, Washington.  Plaintiffs in each case have sued their school system alleging discrimination on the basis of race.

Fifty years ago in Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court concluded that the 14th Amendment was intended to reject segregation and to bring the country together.  In the years since Brown, although de jure segregation has been largely eliminated, de facto segregation remains a barrier to creating opportunity for all Americans. In the last two decades, African American and Latino students have become more segregated from white students, according to a recent study by the Harvard Civil Rights Project (pdf).

No one knows the exact number of school districts and programs that could be affected by the ruling.  But dozens of school systems have programs and policies—often “magnet” programs—to create diverse schools and diverse classes.

What’s important is that most of these recent efforts have been implemented by local officials responding to the desire of parents to send their children to integrated schools.  In Seattle and in Louisville parents, students and community leaders strongly endorse diversity.   Also important is that plans like those in Louisville and Seattle are highly flexible plans in which race is one factor among several for how students are assigned to school.

These cases also allow Americans a chance to reflect on the importance of diverse schools in breaking down barriers and creating a society that allows everyone an opportunity to fulfill his potential.  As the United States becomes more and more multiracial, and as school officials ponder new efforts to create integrated classes, they can draw upon a broad body of research that reveals the many benefits of an integrated classroom.

A key finding—cited by Louisville and Seattle in their court briefs—is that integration produces educational benefits as well as societal benefits of increased racial and ethnic understanding.  Research also shows that racially diverse classes improve critical thinking skills for all students, and that learning in a diverse setting improves problem solving and communication skills for all students.

Other research findings conclude that:

  • Increased interaction among different groups is associated with lower levels of prejudice
  • Students who have attended integrated schools (including Jefferson County and Seattle) say integrated classes better prepared them for work and for public life.
  • Experiences in diverse classrooms allow people to work more productively with members of other groups.
  • White students in integrated schools display greater tolerance and less fear than white students in segregated schools.
  • Minority students who graduate from integrated schools are more likely to have access to social and professional networks that have traditionally been available only to white students.Diverse schools can be structured to make positive outcomes more likely.
  • Diversity efforts have resulted in modest improvements in reading and English for minority students.

Now that the United States has moved beyond the rancor and turmoil associated with court-ordered school integration, it would be sadly ironic if the Supreme Court places the breaks on voluntary programs like those in Louisville and Seattle.

Americans have made major progress in race relations since Brown.  Diverse schools have been part of that effort.  Americans have come to embrace diversity in great numbers.

The Supreme Court needs to affirm the importance of integrated classes.

Dec 4 2006
Blog Post Schools and the Court: Creating Inclusive Communities

Yesterday the Supreme Court  announced that it will consider a number of cases this term questioning the efforts schools in Seattle and Louisville to promote diverse student populations. 

The cases will be heard in December, and are likely to garner quite a bit of attention, so it's important to take a minute to remember why the efforts of these communities are consistent with the Constitution and our values as Americans, and deserving of the public's support.

In Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court recognized that the purpose of the Equal Protection Clause is to bring us together as a nation of diverse peoples, and that promoting diverse education is a compelling government interest.  That is what these teachers, parents, and education leaders are doing - providing a vision of unity and cooperation for their children that we can all be proud of.

Opponents will argue for the narrow interests of a few students and parents over the common good.  They'll invoke inflammatory terms like quotas and racial preferences, and so many other straw men meant to distract attention and draw down support from the real issue: that we are all in this together, and these programs, which bring our children together, ultimatley make us stronger as a nation.

Years of experience show that many communities can't achieve inclusive, diverse schools without making that an explicit goal and working towards it intentionally.  And research shows that public schools in America are rapidly resegregating.  By choosing inclusion instead of separation, these schools are working to buck that trend and build the kind of community that we all want to live in: a community of cohesive, well-educated and prosperous young people prepared for the future.  That's a goal that every American should support.

Oct 4 2006
Video Alan Jenkins on MSNBC Discussing Supreme Court Justice Picks

Alan Jenkins, executive director of The Opportunity Agenda, appears on MSNBC to discuss Supreme Court nominations.

Jan 1 2005
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