I was not going to write about the school race cases the Supreme Court handed down recently. I’m sort of burned out, to tell you the truth, and there is nothing they could do at this point that would surprise me very much.
However, there is a catchphrase that I’ve seen repeated numerous times around the fluorosphere*: “The Supreme Court overruled Brown v. Board of Education.”
No, they didn’t.
For people who don’t remember, Brown v. Board held that a government entity — a school board — cannot discriminate as a matter of law on the basis of race in admitting students to schools.
Nothing in these decisions would allow a school board to set up as a school where students of one race were allowed but students of another were not. Not remotely.
Yes, these decisions make it hard for school districts to take actions that correct for past segregation. Not allowing any consideration of race in effect acts as though segregation never took place, as though differences in racial makeup of schools were some sort of random historical accident, not a result of decades of deliberate government action. Creating a society where there is truly a level playing field, where the echoes of past evils do not continue to plague future generations, has become more difficult after the actions of Roberts, et al.
But that is a very different creature than allowing the reinstitution of “separate but equal” as a matter of law.
It is very important for progressives not to exaggerate the damage done by the Court, or indeed by any of the right-wing. It is always bad policy to do so, but right now it is paramount.
Because so much of what they do is so appalling as it is. The undercutting of worker protections (Ledbetter v. Goodyear, Inc.), allowing Congress to usurp doctors as medical decision makers concerning late-term abortions (Gonzales v. Carhart), ruling taxpayers have no standing to challenge the use of federal funds to faith-based organizations (Hein v. Freedom from Religion Foundation), the gutting of campaign finance regulation (Wisconsin Right to Life v. FEC). All of these are enough to give most people who are left-of-center (or even left-of-right) nightmares **
Exaggerating simply causes progressives to lose credibility. It makes it easy for others to point and say: “See? You’re exaggerating. It can’t be that bad.”
We already face that danger when we speak the stone-cold truth. We can’t afford to do otherwise.
* A much nicer word than “blogosphere.”
**It is also important to recognize the things the court has done right, among them: stating that a passenger in a car has a right to challenge the constitutionality of a traffic stop, and staying the execution of a Texas death-row inmate who, the state of Texas’s insistence as to his mental competence notwithstanding, claimed that the state was executing him to prevent him from preaching the word of Jesus.