Gladwell and Scalia on desegregation

Gladwell and Scalia on desegregation

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In the latest episode of Revisionist History, Malcolm Gladwell questions the reasoning in Brown v. Board of Education

“For Leola and Oliver Brown, [Brown v. Board of Education] was a matter of principle.  They didn’t think there was anything wrong with the quality of education at Monroe, the all-black school.  They just thought that the Topeka school board shouldn’t be telling them where they could or couldn’t send Linda to school, particularly if the only reason the school board could come up with was the color of Linda’s skin.”

His point here is that the Brown remedy should have focused on providing black students access to the white schools, instead of creating more and more complicated student assignment systems in which many African American students were bused to faraway white schools (where they typically lost access to quality black teachers).

Gladwell might be surprised to learn that none other than Justice Antonin Scalia agreed with him.  From a dissent in the 1992 case Freeman v. Pitts:

…an observer unfamiliar with the history surrounding this issue might suggest that we avoid the problem by requiring only that the school authorities establish a regime in which parents are free to disregard neighborhood-school assignment, and to send their children (with transportation paid) to whichever school they choose. So long as there is free choice, he would say, there is no reason to require that the schools be made identical. The constitutional right is equal racial access to schools, not access to racially equal schools..

Italics added.

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