“A decision the Court and the Nation will come to regret.”
Ten years ago, the United States Supreme Court struck down two local school board initiatives meant to reverse extreme racial segregation in public schools. The sharply divided 5-4 decision in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District marked the end of an era of efforts by local authorities to fulfill the promise of racially integrated education envisioned by the Supreme Court in 1954 in Brown v. Board of Education. In a searing landmark dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer warned this was “a decision the Court and the Nation will come to regret.” A decade later, the unabated resegregation of America's schools continues to confirm Justice Breyer's fears, as many schools and school districts across the country are more racially segregated today than they were in the late 1960s.
Edited and introduced by Justice Breyer's former law clerk—and accompanied by a sobering update on the state of segregated schools in America today—this volume contains the full text of Justice Breyer's most impassioned opinion, a dissent that Justice John Paul Stevens called at the time “eloquent and unanswerable.” The cautionary words of Justice Breyer should echo in classrooms across the country and in the hearts and minds of parents and schoolchildren everywhere.
Stephen Breyer has been an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court since 1994. He received his law degree from Harvard Law School, clerked for Associate Justice Arthur J. Goldberg in the 1964–65 Supreme Court term, and taught at Harvard for nearly two decades before joining the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in 1980. President Clinton nominated Breyer to succeed Harry Blackmun on the Supreme Court in 1994.
Thiru Vignarajah, who served as a law clerk for Justice Breyer the year of the Parents decision, is a partner at DLA Piper and previously served as a prosecutor in Baltimore and then deputy attorney general for Maryland. The son of public school teachers, Vignarajah himself attended public schools in Baltimore before studying at Yale University and Harvard Law School, where he was president of the Harvard Law Review.
The introduction provides useful context… and is itself a powerful piece of advocacy, distilling for easy absorption the points that Breyer made at considerably greater length in the dissent. (The typeset version of the dissent as issued by the Court was seventy-seven pages long, nearly twice the length of the Roberts opinion.) Bestowing on Parents Involved the new name of "the resegregation cases" (the Louisville and Seattle cases began as two separate lawsuits), Vignarajah tracks the Court's retreat from the desegregation orders that lower-court judges imposed frequently during the 1970s. He points out that even as the Court turned against these mandatory orders a decade later, it began at the same time to interfere with school systems and localities that embarked on such remedies voluntarily. To follow the ensuing trajectory is to step through the looking glass[.]
Few court decisions have had the impact, influence, and importance of Brown v. Board (1954). In Breaking the Promise of Brown, recently retired US Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer argues that the court's recent decisions vitiated Brown's power and ended up resegregating US public schools. This slim volume consists of Breyer’s dissent in what he terms the “Resegregation Cases” along with two appendixes (p. 2). The first appendix contains statistics supporting the assertion that American schools are being resegregated; the second consists of sources for the dissents reprinted in the first part of the book. Although Breyer’s dissents are readily available online without cost, this elegant volume would make a strong complement to James T. Patterson’s Brown v. Board of Education: A Civil Rights Milestone and Its Troubled Legacy (CH, Oct'01, 39-1142) or Michael J. Klarman’s Brown v. Board of Education and the Civil Rights Movement (2007). Recommended. General readers, advanced undergraduates through faculty, and professionals.