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Parents Involved In Community Schools v. Seattle School
Posted on Tuesday, July 24 @ 04:22:36 MST by annoregni

Supreme Court - Law of the Land Parents Involved In Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1

Parents Involved In Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1, 551 U.S. ___ 05908 (2007)

 

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

 

PARENTS INVOLVED IN COMMUNITY SCHOOLS

v.

SEATTLE SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 1 ET AL.

 

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES

COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT

 

No. 05-908.

 

Argued: December 4, 2006

Decided: June 28, 2007*

 

[Slip Op. I] Respondent school districts voluntarily adopted student assignment plans that rely on race to determine which schools certain children may attend. The Seattle district, which has never operated legally segregated schools or been subject to court-ordered desegregation, classified children as white or nonwhite, and used the racial classifications as a "tiebreaker" to allocate slots in particular high schools. The Jefferson County, Ky., district was subject to a desegregation decree until 2000, when the District Court dissolved the decree after finding that the district had eliminated the vestiges of prior segregation to the greatest extent practicable. In 2001, the district adopted its plan classifying students as black or "other" in order to make certain elementary school assignments and to rule on transfer requests.

 

Petitioners, an organization of Seattle parents (Parents Involved) and the mother of a Jefferson County student (Joshua), whose children were or could be assigned under the foregoing plans, filed these suits contending, inter alia, that allocating children to different public schools based solely on their race violates the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection guarantee. In the Seattle case, the District Court granted the school district summary judgment, finding, inter alia, that its plan survived strict scrutiny on the federal constitutional claim because it was narrowly tailored to serve a compelling government interest. The Ninth Circuit affirmed. In the Jefferson County case, the District Court found that the school district had asserted [Slip Op. II] a compelling interest in maintaining racially diverse schools, and that its plan was, in all relevant respects, narrowly tailored to serve that interest. The Sixth Circuit affirmed.



 

Held: The judgments are reversed, and the cases are remanded.

 

No. 05-908, 426 F.3d 1162; No. 05-915, 416 F.3d 513, reversed and remanded.

 

THE CHIEF JUSTICE delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II, III-A, and III-C, concluding:

 

1. The Court has jurisdiction in these cases. Seattle argues that Parents Involved lacks standing because its current members' claimed injuries are not imminent and are too speculative in that, even if the district maintains its current plan and reinstitutes the racial tiebreaker, those members will only be affected if their children seek to enroll in a high school that is oversubscribed and integration positive. This argument is unavailing; the group's members have children in all levels of the district's schools, and the complaint sought declaratory and injunctive relief on behalf of members whose elementary and middle school children may be denied admission to the high schools of their choice in the future. The fact that those children may not be denied such admission based on their race because of undersubscription or oversubscription that benefits them does not eliminate the injury claimed. The group also asserted an interest in not being forced to compete in a race-based system that might prejudice its members' children, an actionable form of injury under the Equal Protection Clause, see, e.g., Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Pena, 515 U.S. 200, 211. The fact that Seattle has ceased using the racial tiebreaker pending the outcome here is not dispositive, since the district vigorously defends its program's constitutionality, and nowhere suggests that it will not resume using race to assign students if it prevails. See Friends of Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Environmental Services (TOC), Inc., 528 U.S. 167, 169. Similarly, the fact that Joshua has been granted a transfer does not eliminate the Court's jurisdiction; Jefferson County's racial guidelines apply at all grade levels and he may again be subject to race-based assignment in middle school. Pp. 9-11.

 

2. The school districts have not carried their heavy burden of showing that the interest they seek to achieve justifies the extreme means they have chosen — discriminating among individual students based on race by relying upon racial classifications in making school assignments. Pp. 11-17, 25-28.

 

(a) Because "racial classifications are simply too pernicious to permit any but the most exact connection between justification and classification," Fullilove v. Klutznick, 448 U.S. 448, 537 (STEVENS, J., dissenting), governmental distributions of burdens or benefits based [Slip Op. III] on individual racial classifications are reviewed under strict scrutiny, e.g., Johnson v. California, 543 U.S. 499, 505-506. Thus, the school districts must demonstrate that their use of such classifications is "narrowly tailored" to achieve a "compelling" government interest. Adarand, supra, at 227.

 

Although remedying the effects of past intentional discrimination is a compelling interest under the strict scrutiny test, see Freeman v. Pitts, 503 U.S. 467, 494, that interest is not involved here because the Seattle schools were never segregated by law nor subject to court-ordered desegregation, and the desegregation decree to which the Jefferson County schools were previously subject has been dissolved. Moreover, these cases are not governed by Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306, 328, in which the Court held that, for strict scrutiny purposes, a government interest in student body diversity "in the context of higher education" is compelling. That interest was not focused on race alone but encompassed "all factors that may contribute to student body diversity," id., at 337, including, e.g., having "overcome personal adversity and family hardship," id., at 338. Quoting Justice Powell's articulation of diversity in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265, 314-315, the Grutter Court noted that "‘it is not an interest in simple ethnic diversity, in which a specified percentage of the student body is in effect guaranteed to be members of selected ethnic groups,’ that can justify the use of race," 539 U.S., at 324-325, but "‘a far broader array of qualifications and characteristics of which racial or ethnic origin is but a single though important element,’" id., at 325. In the present cases, by contrast, race is not considered as part of a broader effort to achieve "exposure to widely diverse people, cultures, ideas, and viewpoints," id., at 330; race, for some students, is determinative standing alone. The districts argue that other factors, such as student preferences, affect assignment decisions under their plans, but under each plan when race comes into play, it is decisive by itself. It is not simply one factor weighed with others in reaching a decision, as in Grutter; it is the factor. See Gratz v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 244, 275. Even as to race, the plans here employ only a limited notion of diversity, viewing race exclusively in white/nonwhite terms in Seattle and black/"other" terms in Jefferson County. The Grutter Court expressly limited its holding — defining a specific type of broad-based diversity and noting the unique context of higher education — but these limitations were largely disregarded by the lower courts in extending Grutter to the sort of classifications at issue here. Pp. 11-17.

 

(b) Despite the districts' assertion that they employed individual racial classifications in a way necessary to achieve their stated ends, the minimal effect these classifications have on student assignments [Slip Op. IV] suggests that other means would be effective. Seattle's racial tiebreaker results, in the end, only in shifting a small number of students between schools. Similarly, Jefferson County admits that its use of racial classifications has had a minimal effect, and claims only that its guidelines provide a firm definition of the goal of racially integrated schools, thereby providing administrators with authority to collaborate with principals and staff to maintain schools within the desired range. Classifying and assigning schoolchildren according to a binary conception of race is an extreme approach in light of this Court's precedents and the Nation's history of using race in public schools, and requires more than such an amorphous end to justify it. In Grutter, in contrast, the consideration of race was viewed as indispensable in more than tripling minority representation at the law school there at issue. See 539 U.S., at 320. While the Court does not suggest that greater use of race would be preferable, the minimal impact of the districts' racial classifications on school enrollment casts doubt on the necessity of using such classifications. The districts have also failed to show they considered methods other than explicit racial classifications to achieve their stated goals. Narrow tailoring requires "serious, good faith consideration of workable race-neutral alternatives," id., at 339, and yet in Seattle several alternative assignment plans — many of which would not have used express racial classifications — were rejected with little or no consideration. Jefferson County has failed to present any evidence that it considered alternatives, even though the district already claims that its goals are achieved primarily through means other than the racial classifications. Pp. 25-28.

 

THE CHIEF JUSTICE, joined by JUSTICE SCALIA, JUSTICE THOMAS, and JUSTICE ALITO, concluded for additional reasons in Parts III-B and IV that the plans at issue are unconstitutional under this Court's precedents. Pp. 17-25, 28-41.

 

1. The Court need not resolve the parties' dispute over whether racial diversity in schools has a marked impact on test scores and other objective yardsticks or achieves intangible socialization benefits because it is clear that the racial classifications at issue are not narrowly tailored to the asserted goal. In design and operation, the plans are directed only to racial balance, an objective this Court has repeatedly condemned as illegitimate. They are tied to each district's specific racial demographics, rather than to any pedagogic concept of the level of diversity needed to obtain the asserted educational benefits. Whatever those demographics happen to be drives the required "diversity" number in each district. The districts offer no evidence that the level of racial diversity necessary to achieve the asserted educational benefits happens to coincide with the racial demographics [Slip Op. V] of the respective districts, or rather the districts' white/nonwhite or black/"other" balance, since that is the only diversity addressed by the plans. In Grutter, the number of minority students the school sought to admit was an undefined "meaningful number" necessary to achieve a genuinely diverse student body, 539 U.S., at 316, 335-336, and the Court concluded that the law school did not count back from its applicant pool to arrive at that number, id., at 335-336. Here, in contrast, the schools worked backward to achieve a particular type of racial balance, rather than working forward from some demonstration of the level of diversity that provides the purported benefits. This is a fatal flaw under the Court's existing precedent. See, e.g., Freeman, supra, at 494. Accepting racial balancing as a compelling state interest would justify imposing racial proportionality throughout American society, contrary to the Court's repeated admonitions that this is unconstitutional. While the school districts use various verbal formulations to describe the interest they seek to promote — racial diversity, avoidance of racial isolation, racial integration — they offer no definition suggesting that their interest differs from racial balancing. Pp. 17-25.

 

2. If the need for the racial classifications embraced by the school districts is unclear, even on the districts' own terms, the costs are undeniable. Government action dividing people by race is inherently suspect because such classifications promote "notions of racial inferiority and lead to a politics of racial hostility," Croson, supra, at 493, "reinforce the belief, held by too many for too much of our history, that individuals should be judged by the color of their skin," Shaw v. Reno, 509 U.S. 630, 657, and "endorse race-based reasoning and the conception of a Nation divided into racial blocs, thus contributing to an escalation of racial hostility and conflict," Metro Broadcasting, Inc. v. FCC, 497 U.S. 547, 603 (O'Connor, J.,dissenting). When it comes to using race to assign children to schools, history will be heard. In Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483, the Court held that segregation deprived black children of equal educational opportunities regardless of whether school facilities and other tangible factors were equal, because the classification and separation themselves denoted inferiority. Id., at 493-494. It was not the inequality of the facilities but the fact of legally separating children based on race on which the Court relied to find a constitutional violation in that case. Id., at 494. The districts here invoke the ultimate goal of those who filed Brown and subsequent cases to support their argument, but the argument of the plaintiff in Brown was that the Equal Protection Clause "prevents states from according differential treatment to American children on the basis of their color or race," and that view prevailed — this Court ruled in its remedial opinion that Brown required school districts [Slip Op. VI] "to achieve a system of determining admission to the public schools on a nonracial basis." Brown v. Board of Education, 349 U.S. 294, 300-301 (emphasis added). Pp. 28-41.

 

JUSTICE KENNEDY agreed that the Court has jurisdiction to decide these cases and that respondents' student assignment plans are not narrowly tailored to achieve the compelling goal of diversity properly defined, but concluded that some parts of the plurality opinion imply an unyielding insistence that race cannot be a factor in instances when it may be taken into account. Pp. 1-9.

 

(a) As part of its burden of proving that racial classifications are narrowly tailored to further compelling interests, the government must establish, in detail, how decisions based on an individual student's race are made in a challenged program. The Jefferson County Board of Education fails to meet this threshold mandate when it concedes it denied Joshua's requested kindergarten transfer on the basis of his race under its guidelines, yet also maintains that the guidelines do not apply to kindergartners. This discrepancy is not some simple and straightforward error that touches only upon the peripheries of the district's use of individual racial classifications. As becomes clearer when the district's plan is further considered, Jefferson County has explained how and when it employs these classifications only in terms so broad and imprecise that they cannot withstand strict scrutiny. In its briefing it fails to make clear — even in the limited respects implicated by Joshua's initial assignment and transfer denial — whether in fact it relies on racial classifications in a manner narrowly tailored to the interest in question, rather than in the far-reaching, inconsistent, and ad hoc manner that a less forgiving reading of the record would suggest. When a court subjects governmental action to strict scrutiny, it cannot construe ambiguities in favor of the government. In the Seattle case, the school district has gone further in describing the methods and criteria used to determine assignment decisions based on individual racial classifications, but it has nevertheless failed to explain why, in a district composed of a diversity of races, with only a minority of the students classified as "white," it has employed the crude racial categories of "white" and "non-white" as the basis for its assignment decisions. Far from being narrowly tailored, this system threatens to defeat its own ends, and the district has provided no convincing explanation for its design. Pp. 2-6.

 

(b) The plurality opinion is too dismissive of government's legitimate interest in ensuring that all people have equal opportunity regardless of their race. In administering public schools, it is permissible to consider the schools' racial makeup and adopt general policies to encourage a diverse student body, one aspect of which is its racial composition. Cf. Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306. School authorities [Slip Op. VII] concerned that their student bodies' racial compositions interfere with offering an equal educational opportunity to all are free to devise race-conscious measures to address the problem in a general way and without treating each student in different fashion based solely on a systematic, individual typing by race. Such measures may include strategic site selection of new schools; drawing attendance zones with general recognition of neighborhood demographics; allocating resources for special programs; recruiting students and faculty in a targeted fashion; and tracking enrollments, performance, and other statistics by race.

 

Each respondent has failed to provide the necessary support for the proposition that there is no other way than individual racial classifications to avoid racial isolation in their school districts. Cf. Richmond v. J. A. Croson Co., 488 U.S. 469, 501. In these cases, the fact that the number of students whose assignment depends on express racial classifications is small suggests that the schools could have achieved their stated ends through different means, including the facially race-neutral means set forth above or, if necessary, a more nuanced, individual evaluation of school needs and student characteristics that might include race as a component. The latter approach would be informed by Grutter, though the criteria relevant to student placement would differ based on the students' age, the parents' needs, and the schools' role. Pp. 6-9.

 

ROBERTS, C. J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II, III-A, and III-C, in which SCALIA, KENNEDY, THOMAS, and ALITO, JJ., joined, and an opinion with respect to Parts III-B and IV, in which SCALIA, THOMAS, and ALITO, JJ., joined. THOMAS, J., filed a concurring opinion. KENNEDY, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion. BREYER, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which STEVENS, SOUTER, and GINSBURG, JJ., joined.

 

[Slip Op. 1] CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS announced the judgment of the Court, and delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II, III-A, and III-C, and an opinion with respect to Parts III-B and IV, in which JUSTICES SCALIA, THOMAS, and ALITO join.

 

The school districts in these cases voluntarily adopted student assignment plans that rely upon race to determine which public schools certain children may attend. The Seattle school district classifies children as white or nonwhite; the Jefferson County school district as black or "other." In Seattle, this racial classification is used to [Slip Op. 2] allocate slots in oversubscribed high schools. In Jefferson County, it is used to make certain elementary school assignments and to rule on transfer requests. In each case, the school district relies upon an individual student's race in assigning that student to a particular school, so that the racial balance at the school falls within a predetermined range based on the racial composition of the school district as a whole. Parents of students denied assignment to particular schools under these plans solely because of their race brought suit, contending that allocating children to different public schools on the basis of race violated the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of equal protection. The Courts of Appeals below upheld the plans. We granted certiorari, and now reverse.

 

I

 

Both cases present the same underlying legal question — whether a public school that had not operated legally segregated schools or has been found to be unitary may choose to classify students by race and rely upon that classification in making school assignments. Although we examine the plans under the same legal framework, the specifics of the two plans, and the circumstances surrounding their adoption, are in some respects quite different.

 

A

 

Seattle School District No. 1 operates 10 regular public high schools. In 1998, it adopted the plan at issue in this case for assigning students to these schools. App. in No. 05-908, pp. 90a-92a.1 The plan allows incoming ninth [Slip Op. 3] graders to choose from among any of the district's high schools, ranking however many schools they wish in order of preference.

 

Some schools are more popular than others. If too many students list the same school as their first choice, the district employs a series of "tiebreakers" to determine who will fill the open slots at the oversubscribed school. The first tiebreaker selects for admission students who have a sibling currently enrolled in the chosen school. The next tiebreaker depends upon the racial composition of the particular school and the race of the individual student. In the district's public schools approximately 41 percent of enrolled students are white; the remaining 59 percent, comprising all other racial groups, are classified by Seattle for assignment purposes as nonwhite. Id., at 38a, 103a.2 If an oversubscribed school is not within 10 percentage points of the district's overall white/nonwhite racial balance, it is what the district calls "integration positive," and the district employs a tiebreaker that selects for assignment students whose race "will serve to bring the school into balance." Id., at 38a. See Parents Involved VII, 426 F.3d 1162, 1169-1170 (CA9 2005) (en banc).3 If it is still necessary to select students for the school after using the racial tiebreaker, the next tiebreaker is the geographic proximity of the school to the student's residence. App. in No. 05-908, at 38a.

 

Seattle has never operated segregated schools — legally [Slip Op. 4] separate schools for students of different races — nor has it ever been subject to court-ordered desegregation. It nonetheless employs the racial tiebreaker in an attempt to address the effects of racially identifiable housing patterns on school assignments. Most white students live in the northern part of Seattle, most students of other racial backgrounds in the southern part. Parents Involved VII, supra, at 1166. Four of Seattle's high schools are located in the north — Ballard, Nathan Hale, Ingraham, and Roosevelt — and five in the south — Rainier Beach, Cleveland, West Seattle, Chief Sealth, and Franklin. One school — Garfield — is more or less in the center of Seattle. App. in No. 05-908, at 38a-39a, 45a.

 

For the 2000-2001 school year, five of these schools were oversubscribed — Ballard, Nathan Hale, Roosevelt, Garfield, and Franklin — so much so that 82 percent of incoming ninth graders ranked one of these schools as their first choice. Id., at 38a. Three of the oversubscribed schools were "integration positive" because the school's white enrollment the previous school year was greater than 51 percent — Ballard, Nathan Hale, and Roosevelt. Thus, more nonwhite students (107, 27, and 82, respectively) who selected one of these three schools as a top choice received placement at the school than would have been the case had race not been considered, and proximity been the next tiebreaker. Id., at 39a-40a. Franklin was "integration positive" because its nonwhite enrollment the previous school year was greater than 69 percent; 89 more white students were assigned to Franklin by operation of the racial tiebreaker in the 2000-2001 school year than otherwise would have been. Ibid. Garfield was the only oversubscribed school whose composition during the 1999-2000 school year was within the racial guidelines, although in previous years Garfield's enrollment had been predominantly nonwhite, and the racial tiebreaker had been used to give preference to white students. Id., at 39a. [Slip Op. 5]

 

Petitioner Parents Involved in Community Schools (Parents Involved) is a nonprofit corporation comprising the parents of children who have been or may be denied assignment to their chosen high school in the district because of their race. The concerns of Parents Involved are illustrated by Jill Kurfirst, who sought to enroll her ninth-grade son, Andy Meeks, in Ballard High School's special Biotechnology Career Academy. Andy suffered from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and dyslexia, but had made good progress with hands-on instruction, and his mother and middle school teachers thought that the smaller biotechnology program held the most promise for his continued success. Andy was accepted into this selective program but, because of the racial tiebreaker, was denied assignment to Ballard High School. Id., at 143a-146a, 152a-160a. Parents Involved commenced this suit in the Western District of Washington, alleging that Seattle's use of race in assignments violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment,4 Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,5 and the Washington Civil Rights Act.6 Id., at 28a-35a.

 

The District Court granted summary judgment to the school district, finding that state law did not bar the district's use of the racial tiebreaker and that the plan survived strict scrutiny on the federal constitutional claim because it was narrowly tailored to serve a compelling [Slip Op. 6] government interest. 137 F. Supp. 2d 1224, 1240 (WD Wash. 2001) (Parents Involved I). The Ninth Circuit initially reversed based on its interpretation of the Washington Civil Rights Act, 285 F.3d 1236, 1253 (2002) (Parents Involved II), and enjoined the district's use of the integration tiebreaker, id., at 1257. Upon realizing that the litigation would not be resolved in time for assignment decisions for the 2002-2003 school year, the Ninth Circuit withdrew its opinion, 294 F.3d 1084 (2002) (Parents Involved III), vacated the injunction, and, pursuant to Wash. Rev. Code § 2.60.020 (2006), certified the state-law question to the Washington Supreme Court, 294 F.3d 1085, 1087 (2002) (Parents Involved IV).

 

The Washington Supreme Court determined that the State Civil Rights Act bars only preferential treatment programs "where race or gender is used by government to select a less qualified applicant over a more qualified applicant," and not "[p]rograms which are racially neutral, such as the [district's] open choice plan." Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School Dist., No. 1, 149 Wash.2d 660, 689-690, 663, 72 P.3d 151, 166, 153 (2003) (en banc) (Parents Involved V). The state court returned the case to the Ninth Circuit for further proceedings. Id., at 690, 72 P.3d, at 167.

 

A panel of the Ninth Circuit then again reversed the District Court, this time ruling on the federal constitutional question. Parents Involved VI, 377 F.3d 949 (2004). The panel determined that while achieving racial diversity and avoiding racial isolation are compelling government interests, id., at 964, Seattle's use of the racial tiebreaker was not narrowly tailored to achieve these interests, id., at 980. The Ninth Circuit granted rehearing en banc, 395 F.3d 1168 (2005), and overruled the panel decision, affirming the District Court's determination that Seattle's plan was narrowly tailored to serve a compelling government interest, Parents Involved VII, 426 F.3d, at 1192-1193. [Slip Op. 7] We granted certiorari. 547 U.S. ___ (2006).

 

B

 

Jefferson County Public Schools operates the public school system in metropolitan Louisville, Kentucky. In 1973 a federal court found that Jefferson County had maintained a segregated school system, Newburg Area Council, Inc. v. Board of Ed. of Jefferson Cty., 489 F.2d 925, 932 (CA6), vacated and remanded, 418 U.S. 918, reinstated with modifications, 510 F.2d 1358, 1359 (CA6 1974), and in 1975 the District Court entered a desegregation decree. See Hampton v. Jefferson Cty. Bd. of Ed., 72 F. Supp. 2d 753, 762-764 (WD Ky. 1999). Jefferson County operated under this decree until 2000, when the District Court dissolved the decree after finding that the district had achieved unitary status by eliminating "[t]o the greatest extent practicable" the vestiges of its prior policy of segregation. Hampton v. Jefferson Cty. Bd. of Ed., 102 F. Supp. 2d 358, 360 (2000). See Board of Ed. of Oklahoma City Public Schools v. Dowell, 498 U.S. 237, 249-250 (1991); Green v. School Bd. of New Kent Cty., 391 U.S. 430, 435-436 (1968).

 

In 2001, after the decree had been dissolved, Jefferson County adopted the voluntary student assignment plan at issue in this case. App. in No. 05-915, p. 77. Approximately 34 percent of the district's 97,000 students are black; most of the remaining 66 percent are white. McFarland v. Jefferson Cty. Public Schools, 330 F. Supp. 2d 834, 839-840, and n. 6 (WD Ky. 2004) (McFarland I). The plan requires all nonmagnet schools to maintain a minimum black enrollment of 15 percent, and a maximum black enrollment of 50 percent. App. in No. 05-915, at 81; McFarland I, supra, at 842.

 

At the elementary school level, based on his or her address, each student is designated a "resides" school to which students within a specific geographic area are [Slip Op. 8] assigned; elementary resides schools are "grouped into clusters in order to facilitate integration." App. in No. 05-915, at 82. The district assigns students to nonmagnet schools in one of two ways: Parents of kindergartners, first-graders, and students new to the district may submit an application indicating a first and second choice among the schools within their cluster; students who do not submit such an application are assigned within the cluster by the district. "Decisions to assign students to schools within each cluster are based on available space within the schools and the racial guidelines in the District's current student assignment plan." Id., at 38. If a school has reached the "extremes of the racial guidelines," a student whose race would contribute to the school's racial imbalance will not be assigned there. Id., at 38-39, 82. After assignment, students at all grade levels are permitted to apply to transfer between nonmagnet schools in the district. Transfers may be requested for any number of reasons, and may be denied because of lack of available space or on the basis of the racial guidelines. Id., at 43.7

 

When petitioner Crystal Meredith moved into the school district in August 2002, she sought to enroll her son, Joshua McDonald, in kindergarten for the 2002-2003 school year. His resides school was only a mile from his new home, but it had no available space — assignments had been made in May, and the class was full. Jefferson County assigned Joshua to another elementary school in his cluster, Young Elementary. This school was 10 miles from home, and Meredith sought to transfer Joshua to a school in a different cluster, Bloom Elementary, which — [Slip Op. 9] like his resides school — was only a mile from home. See Tr. in McFarland I, pp. 1-49 through 1-54 (Dec. 8, 2003). Space was available at Bloom, and intercluster transfers are allowed, but Joshua's transfer was nonetheless denied because, in the words of Jefferson County, "[t]he transfer would have an adverse effect on desegregation compliance" of Young. App. in No. 05-915, at 97.8

 

Meredith brought suit in the Western District of Kentucky, alleging violations of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The District Court found that Jefferson County had asserted a compelling interest in maintaining racially diverse schools, and that the assignment plan was (in all relevant respects) narrowly tailored to serve that compelling interest. McFarland I, supra, at 837.9 The Sixth Circuit affirmed in a per curiam opinion relying upon the reasoning of the District Court, concluding that a written opinion "would serve no useful purpose." McFarland v. Jefferson Cty. Public Schools, 416 F.3d 513, 514 (2005) (McFarland II). We granted certiorari. 547 U.S. ___ (2006).

 

II

 

As a threshold matter, we must assure ourselves of our jurisdiction. Seattle argues that Parents Involved lacks standing because none of its current members can claim an imminent injury. Even if the district maintains the [Slip Op. 10] current plan and reinstitutes the racial tiebreaker, Seattle argues, Parents Involved members will only be affected if their children seek to enroll in a Seattle public high school and choose an oversubscribed school that is integration positive — too speculative a harm to maintain standing. Brief for Respondents in No. 05-908, pp. 16-17.

 

This argument is unavailing. The group's members have children in the district's elementary, middle, and high schools, App. in No. 05-908, at 299a-301a; Affidavit of Kathleen Brose Pursuant to this Court's Rule 32.3 (Lodging of Petitioner Parents Involved), and the complaint sought declaratory and injunctive relief on behalf of Parents Involved members whose elementary and middle school children may be "denied admission to the high schools of their choice when they apply for those schools in the future," App. in No. 05-908, at 30a. The fact that it is possible that children of group members will not be denied admission to a school based on their race — because they choose an undersubscribed school or an oversubscribed school in which their race is an advantage — does not eliminate the injury claimed. Moreover, Parents Involved also asserted an interest in not being "forced to compete for seats at certain high schools in a system that uses race as a deciding factor in many of its admissions decisions." Ibid. As we have held, one form of injury under the Equal Protection Clause is being forced to compete in a race-based system that may prejudice the plaintiff, Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Pena, 515 U.S. 200, 211 (1995); Northeastern Fla. Chapter, Associated Gen. Contractors of America v. Jacksonville, 508 U.S. 656, 666 (1993), an injury that the members of Parents Involved can validly claim on behalf of their children.

 

In challenging standing, Seattle also notes that it has ceased using the racial tiebreaker pending the outcome of this litigation. Brief for Respondents in No. 05-908, at 16-17. But the district vigorously defends the constitutionality [Slip Op. 11] of its race-based program, and nowhere suggests that if this litigation is resolved in its favor it will not resume using race to assign students. Voluntary cessation does not moot a case or controversy unless "subsequent events ma[ke] it absolutely clear that the allegedly wrongful behavior could not reasonably be expected to recur," Friends of Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Environmental Services (TOC), Inc., 528 U.S. 167, 189 (2000) (quoting United States v. Concentrated Phosphate Export Assn., Inc., 393 U.S. 199, 203 (1968) (internal quotation marks omitted)), a heavy burden that Seattle has clearly not met.

 

Jefferson County does not challenge our jurisdiction, Tr. of Oral Arg. in No. 05-915, p. 48, but we are nonetheless obliged to ensure that it exists, Arbaugh v. Y & H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 514 (2006). Although apparently Joshua has now been granted a transfer to Bloom, the school to which transfer was denied under the racial guidelines, Tr. of Oral Arg. in No. 05-915, at 45, the racial guidelines apply at all grade levels. Upon Joshua's enrollment in middle school, he may again be subject to assignment based on his race. In addition, Meredith sought damages in her complaint, which is sufficient to preserve our ability to consider the question. Los Angeles v. Lyons, 461 U.S. 95, 109 (1983).

 

III

 

A

 

It is well established that when the government distributes burdens or benefits on the basis of individual racial classifications, that action is reviewed under strict scrutiny. Johnson v. California, 543 U.S. 499, 505-506 (2005); Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306, 326 (2003); Adarand, supra, at 224. As the Court recently reaffirmed, "‘racial classifications are simply too pernicious to permit any but the most exact connection between justification and classification.’" Gratz v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 244, 270 [Slip Op. 12] (2003) (quoting Fullilove v. Klutznick, 448 U.S. 448, 537 (1980) (STEVENS, J., dissenting); brackets omitted). In order to satisfy this searching standard of review, the school districts must demonstrate that the use of individual racial classifications in the assignment plans here under review is "narrowly tailored" to achieve a "compelling" government interest. Adarand, supra, at 227.

 

Without attempting in these cases to set forth all the interests a school district might assert, it suffices to note that our prior cases, in evaluating the use of racial classifications in the school context, have recognized two interests that qualify as compelling. The first is the compelling interest of remedying the effects of past intentional discrimination. See Freeman v. Pitts, 503 U.S. 467, 494 (1992). Yet the Seattle public schools have not shown that they were ever segregated by law, and were not subject to court-ordered desegregation decrees. The Jefferson County public schools were previously segregated by law and were subject to a desegregation decree entered in 1975. In 2000, the District Court that entered that decree dissolved it, finding that Jefferson County had "eliminated the vestiges associated with the former policy of segregation and its pernicious effects," and thus had achieved "unitary" status. Hampton, 102 F. Supp. 2d, at 360. Jefferson County accordingly does not rely upon an interest in remedying the effects of past intentional discrimination in defending its present use of race in assigning students. See Tr. of Oral Arg. in No. 05-915, at 38.

 

Nor could it. We have emphasized that the harm being remedied by mandatory desegregation plans is the harm that is traceable to segregation, and that "the Constitution is not violated by racial imbalance in the schools, without more." Milliken v. Bradley, 433 U.S. 267, 280, n. 14 (1977). See also Freeman, supra, at 495-496; Dowell, 498 U.S., at 248; Milliken v. Bradley, 418 U.S. 717, 746 (1974). Once Jefferson County achieved unitary status, it [Slip Op. 13] had remedied the constitutional wrong that allowed race-based assignments. Any continued use of race must be justified on some other basis.10

 

The second government interest we have recognized as compelling for purposes of strict scrutiny is the interest in diversity in higher education upheld in Grutter, 539 U.S., at 328. The specific interest found compelling in Grutter was student body diversity "in the context of higher education." Ibid. The diversity interest was not focused on race alone but encompassed "all factors that may contribute to student body diversity." Id., at 337. We described the various types of diversity that the law school sought:

 

"[The law school's] policy makes clear there are many possible bases for diversity admissions, and provides examples of admittees who have lived or traveled widely abroad, are fluent in several languages, have [Slip Op. 14] overcome personal adversity and family hardship, have exceptional records of extensive community service, and have had successful careers in other fields." Id., at 338 (brackets and internal quotation marks omitted).

 

The Court quoted the articulation of diversity from Justice Powell's opinion in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265 (1978), noting that "it is not an interest in simple ethnic diversity, in which a specified percentage of the student body is in effect guaranteed to be members of selected ethnic groups, that can justify the use of race." Grutter, supra, at 324-325 (citing and quoting Bakke, supra, at 314-315 (opinion of Powell, J.); brackets and internal quotation marks omitted). Instead, what was upheld in Grutter was consideration of "a far broader array of qualifications and characteristics of which racial or ethnic origin is but a single though important element." 539 U.S., at 325 (quoting Bakke, supra, at 315 (opinion of Powell, J.); internal quotation marks omitted).

 

The entire gist of the analysis in Grutter was that the admissions program at issue there focused on each applicant as an individual, and not simply as a member of a particular racial group. The classification of applicants by race upheld in Grutter was only as part of a "highly individualized, holistic review," 539 U.S., at 337. As the Court explained, "[t]he importance of this individualized consideration in the context of a race-conscious admissions program is paramount." Ibid. The point of the narrow tailoring analysis in which the Grutter Court engaged was to ensure that the use of racial classifications was indeed part of a broader assessment of diversity, and not simply an effort to achieve racial balance, which the Court explained would be "patently unconstitutional." Id., at 330.

 

In the present cases, by contrast, race is not considered [Slip Op. 15] as part of a broader effort to achieve "exposure to widely diverse people, cultures, ideas, and viewpoints," ibid.; race, for some students, is determinative standing alone. The districts argue that other factors, such as student preferences, affect assignment decisions under their plans, but under each plan when race comes into play, it is decisive by itself. It is not simply one factor weighed with others in reaching a decision, as in Grutter; it is the factor. Like the University of Michigan undergraduate plan struck down in Gratz, 539 U.S., at 275, the plans here "do not provide for a meaningful individualized review of applicants" but instead rely on racial classifications in a "nonindividualized, mechanical" way. Id., at 276, 280 (O'Connor, J., concurring).

 

Even when it comes to race, the plans here employ only a limited notion of diversity, viewing race exclusively in white/nonwhite terms in Seattle and black/"other" terms in Jefferson County.11 But see Metro Broadcasting, Inc. v. FCC, 497 U.S. 547, 610 (1990) ("We are a Nation not of black and white alone, but one teeming with divergent communities knitted together with various traditions and carried forth, above all, by individuals") (O'Connor, J., dissenting). The Seattle "Board Statement Reaffirming Diversity Rationale" speaks of the "inherent educational value" in "[p]roviding students the opportunity to attend schools with diverse student enrollment," App. in No. 05-908, at 128a, 129a. But under the Seattle plan, a school with 50 percent Asian-American students and 50 percent white students but no African-American, Native-American, or Latino students would qualify as balanced, [Slip Op. 16] while a school with 30 percent Asian-American, 25 percent African-American, 25 percent Latino, and 20 percent white students would not. It is hard to understand how a plan that could allow these results can be viewed as being concerned with achieving enrollment that is "‘broadly diverse,’" Grutter, supra, at 329.

 

Prior to Grutter, the courts of appeals rejected as unconstitutional attempts to implement race-based assignment plans — such as the plans at issue here — in primary and secondary schools. See, e.g., Eisenberg v. Montgomery Cty. Public Schools, 197 F.3d 123, 133 (CA4 1999); Tuttle v. Arlington Cty. School Bd., 195 F.3d 698, 701 (CA4 1999); Wessman v. Gittens, 160 F.3d 790, 809 (CA1 1998). See also Ho v. San Francisco Unified School Dist., 147 F.3d 854, 865 (CA9 1998). After Grutter, however, the two Courts of Appeals in these cases, and one other, found that race-based assignments were permissible at the elementary and secondary level, largely in reliance on that case. See Parents Involved VII, 426 F.3d, at 1166; McFarland II, 416 F.3d, at 514; Comfort v. Lynn School Comm., 418 F.3d 1, 13 (CA1 2005).

 

In upholding the admissions plan in Grutter, though, this Court relied upon considerations unique to institutions of higher education, noting that in light of "the expansive freedoms of speech and thought associated with the university environment, universities occupy a special niche in our constitutional tradition." 539 U.S., at 329. See also Bakke, supra, at 312, 313 (opinion of Powell, J.). The Court explained that "[c]ontext matters" in applying strict scrutiny, and repeatedly noted that it was addressing the use of race "in the context of higher education." Grutter, supra, at 327, 328, 334. The Court in Grutter expressly articulated key limitations on its holding — defining a specific type of broad-based diversity and noting the unique context of higher education — but these limitations were largely disregarded by the lower courts in [Slip Op. 17] extending Grutter to uphold race-based assignments in elementary and secondary schools. The present cases are not governed by Grutter.

 

B

 

Perhaps recognizing that reliance on Grutter cannot sustain their plans, both school districts assert additional interests, distinct from the interest upheld in Grutter, to justify their race-based assignments. In briefing and argument before this Court, Seattle contends that its use of race helps to reduce racial concentration in schools and to ensure that racially concentrated housing patterns do not prevent nonwhite students from having access to the most desirable schools. Brief for Respondents in No. 05-908, at 19. Jefferson County has articulated a similar goal, phrasing its interest in terms of educating its students "in a racially integrated environment." App. in No. 05-915, at 22.12 Each school district argues that educational and broader socialization benefits flow from a racially diverse learning environment, and each contends that because the diversity they seek is racial diversity — not the broader diversity at issue in Grutter — it makes sense to promote that interest directly by relying on race alone.

 

The parties and their amici dispute whether racial diversity in schools in fact has a marked impact on test scores and other objective yardsticks or achieves intangible socialization benefits. The debate is not one we need to [Slip Op. 18] resolve, however, because it is clear that the racial classifications employed by the districts are not narrowly tailored to the goal of achieving the educational and social benefits asserted to flow from racial diversity. In design and operation, the plans are directed only to racial balance, pure and simple, an objective this Court has repeatedly condemned as illegitimate.

 

The plans are tied to each district's specific racial demographics, rather than to any pedagogic concept of the level of diversity needed to obtain the asserted educational benefits. In Seattle, the district seeks white enrollment of between 31 and 51 percent (within 10 percent of "the district white average" of 41 percent), and nonwhite enrollment of between 49 and 69 percent (within 10 percent of "the district minority average" of 59 percent). App. in No. 05-908, at 103a. In Jefferson County, by contrast, the district seeks black enrollment of no less than 15 or more than 50 percent, a range designed to be "equally above and below Black student enrollment systemwide," McFarland I, 330 F. Supp. 2d, at 842, based on the objective of achieving at "all schools . . . an African-American enrollment equivalent to the average district-wide African-American enrollment" of 34 percent. App. in No. 05-915, at 81. In Seattle, then, the benefits of racial diversity require enrollment of at least 31 percent white students; in Jefferson County, at least 50 percent. There must be at least 15 percent nonwhite students under Jefferson County's plan; in Seattle, more than three times that figure. This comparison makes clear that the racial demographics in each district — whatever they happen to be — drive the required "diversity" numbers. The plans here are not tailored to achieving a degree of diversity necessary to realize the asserted educational benefits; instead the plans are tailored, in the words of Seattle's Manager of Enrollment Planning, Technical Support, and Demographics, to "the goal established by the school board of attaining [Slip Op. 19] a level of diversity within the schools that approximates the district's overall demographics." App. in No. 05-908, at 42a.

 

The districts offer no evidence that the level of racial diversity necessary to achieve the asserted educational benefits happens to coincide with the racial demographics of the respective school districts — or rather the white/nonwhite or black/"other" balance of the districts, since that is the only diversity addressed by the plans. Indeed, in its brief Seattle simply assumes that the educational benefits track the racial breakdown of the district. See Brief for Respondents in No. 05-908, at 36 ("For Seattle, ‘racial balance’ is clearly not an end in itself but rather a measure of the extent to which the educational goals the plan was designed to foster are likely to be achieved"). When asked for "a range of percentage that would be diverse," however, Seattle's expert said it was important to have "sufficient numbers so as to avoid students feeling any kind of specter of exceptionality." App. in No. 05-908, at 276a. The district did not attempt to defend the proposition that anything outside its range posed the "specter of exceptionality." Nor did it demonstrate in any way how the educational and social benefits of racial diversity or avoidance of racial isolation are more likely to be achieved at a school that is 50 percent white and 50 percent Asian-American, which would qualify as diverse under Seattle's plan, than at a school that is 30 percent Asian-American, 25 percent African-American, 25 percent Latino, and 20 percent white, which under Seattle's definition would be racially concentrated.

 

Similarly, Jefferson County's expert referred to the importance of having "at least 20 percent" minority group representation for the group "to be visible enough to make a difference," and noted that "small isolated minority groups in a school are not likely to have a strong effect on the overall school." App. in No. 05-915, at 159, 147. The [Slip Op. 20] Jefferson County plan, however, is based on a goal of replicating at each school "an African-American enrollment equivalent to the average district-wide African-American enrollment." Id., at 81. Joshua McDonald's requested transfer was denied because his race was listed as "other" rather than black, and allowing the transfer would have had an adverse effect on the racial guideline compliance of Young Elementary, the school he sought to leave. Id., at 21. At the time, however, Young Elementary was 46.8 percent black. Id., at 73. The transfer might have had an adverse effect on the effort to approach district-wide racial proportionality at Young, but it had nothing to do with preventing either the black or "other" group from becoming "small" or "isolated" at Young.

 

In fact, in each case the extreme measure of relying on race in assignments is unnecessary to achieve the stated goals, even as defined by the districts. For example, at Franklin High School in Seattle, the racial tiebreaker was applied because nonwhite enrollment exceeded 69 percent, and resulted in an incoming ninth-grade class in 2000-2001 that was 30.3 percent Asian-American, 21.9 percent African-American, 6.8 percent Latino, 0.5 percent Native-American, and 40.5 percent Caucasian. Without the racial tiebreaker, the class would have been 39.6 percent Asian-American, 30.2 percent African-American, 8.3 percent Latino, 1.1 percent Native-American, and 20.8 percent Caucasian. See App. in No. 05-908, at 308a. When the actual racial breakdown is considered, enrolling students without regard to their race yields a substantially diverse student body under any definition of diversity.13 [Slip Op. 21]

 

In Grutter, the number of minority students the school sought to admit was an undefined "meaningful number" necessary to achieve a genuinely diverse student body. 539 U.S., at 316, 335-336. Although the matter was the subject of disagreement on the Court, see id., at 346-347 (SCALIA, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part); id., at 382-383 (Rehnquist, C. J., dissenting); id., at 388-392 (KENNEDY, J., dissenting), the majority concluded that the law school did not count back from its applicant pool to arrive at the "meaningful number" it regarded as necessary to diversify its student body. Id., at 335-336. Here the racial balance the districts seek is a defined range set solely by reference to the demographics of the respective school districts.

 

This working backward to achieve a particular type of racial balance, rather than working forward from some demonstration of the level of diversity that provides the purported benefits, is a fatal flaw under our existing precedent. We have many times over reaffirmed that "[r]acial balance is not to be achieved for its own sake." [Slip Op. 22] Freeman, 503 U.S., at 494. See also Richmond v. J. A. Croson Co., 488 U.S. 469, 507 (1989); Bakke, 438 U.S., at 307 (opinion of Powell, J.) ("If petitioner's purpose is to assure within its student body some specified percentage of a particular group merely because of its race or ethnic origin, such a preferential purpose must be rejected . . . as facially invalid"). Grutter itself reiterated that "outright racial balancing" is "patently unconstitutional." 539 U.S., at 330.

 

Accepting racial balancing as a compelling state interest would justify the imposition of racial proportionality throughout American society, contrary to our repeated recognition that "[a]t the heart of the Constitution's guarantee of equal protection lies the simple command that the Government must treat citizens as individuals, not as simply components of a racial, religious, sexual or national class." Miller v. Johnson, 515 U.S. 900, 911 (1995) (quoting Metro Broadcasting, 497 U.S., at 602 (O'Connor, J., dissenting); internal quotation marks omitted).14 Allowing racial balancing as a compelling end in itself would "effectively assur[e] that race will always be relevant in American life, and that the ‘ultimate goal’ of ‘eliminating entirely from governmental decisionmaking such irrelevant factors as a human being's race’ will never be achieved." Croson, supra, at 495 (plurality opinion of O'Connor, J.) (quoting Wygant v. Jackson Bd. of Ed., 476 U.S. 267, 320 (1986) (STEVENS, J., dissenting), in turn quoting Fullilove, [Slip Op. 23] 448 U.S., at 547 (STEVENS, J., dissenting); brackets and citation omitted). An interest "linked to nothing other than proportional representation of various races . . . would support indefinite use of racial classifications, employed first to obtain the appropriate mixture of racial views and then to ensure that the [program] continues to reflect that mixture." Metro Broadcasting, supra, at 614 (O'Connor, J., dissenting).

 

The validity of our concern that racial balancing has "no logical stopping point," Croson, supra, at 498 (quoting Wygant, supra, at 275 (plurality opinion); internal quotation marks omitted); see also Grutter, supra, at 343, is demonstrated here by the degree to which the districts tie their racial guidelines to their demographics. As the districts' demographics shift, so too will their definition of racial diversity. See App. in No. 05-908, at 103a (describing application of racial tiebreaker based on "current white percentage" of 41 percent and "current minority percentage" of 59 percent (emphasis added)).

 

The Ninth Circuit below stated that it "share[d] in the hope" expressed in Grutter that in 25 years racial preferences would no longer be necessary to further the interest identified in that case. Parents Involved VII, 426 F.3d, at 1192. But in Seattle the plans are defended as necessary to address the consequences of racially identifiable housing patterns. The sweep of the mandate claimed by the district is contrary to our rulings that remedying past societal discrimination does not justify race-conscious government action. See, e.g., Shaw v. Hunt, 517 U.S. 899, 909-910 (1996) ("[A]n effort to alleviate the effects of societal discrimination is not a compelling interest"); Croson, supra, at 498-499; Wygant, 476 U.S., at 276 (plurality opinion) ("Societal discrimination, without more, is too amorphous a basis for imposing a racially classified remedy"); id., at 288 (O'Connor, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment) ("[A] governmental agency's [Slip Op. 24] interest in remedying ‘societal’ discrimination, that is, discrimination not traceable to its own actions, cannot be deemed sufficiently compelling to pass constitutional muster").

 

The principle that racial balancing is not permitted is one of substance, not semantics. Racial balancing is not transformed from "patently unconstitutional" to a compelling state interest simply by relabeling it "racial diversity." While the school districts use various verbal formulations to describe the interest they seek to promote — racial diversity, avoidance of racial isolation, racial integration — they offer no definition of the interest that suggests it differs from racial balance. See, e.g., App. in No. 05-908, at 257a ("Q. What's your understanding of when a school suffers from racial isolation? A. I don't have a definition for that"); id., at 228a-229a ("I don't think we've ever sat down and said, ‘Define racially concentrated school exactly on point in quantitative terms.’ I don't think we've ever had that conversation"); Tr. in McFarland I, at 1-90 (Dec. 8, 2003) ("Q. How does the Jefferson County School Board define diversity . . . ?" "A. Well, we want to have the schools that make up the percentage of students of the population").

 

Jefferson County phrases its interest as "racial integration," but integration certainly does not require the sort of racial proportionality reflected in its plan. Even in the context of mandatory desegregation, we have stressed that racial proportionality is not required, see Milliken, 433 U.S., at 280, n. 14 ("[A desegregation] order contemplating the substantive constitutional right [to a] particular degree of racial balance or mixing is . . . infirm as a matter of law" (internal quotation marks omitted)); Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Bd. of Ed., 402 U.S. 1, 24 (1971) ("The constitutional command to desegregate schools does not mean that every school in every community must always reflect the racial composition of the school system [Slip Op. 25] as a whole"), and here Jefferson County has already been found to have eliminated the vestiges of its prior segregated school system.

 

The en banc Ninth Circuit declared that "when a racially diverse school system is the goal (or racial concentration or isolation is the problem), there is no more effective means than a consideration of race to achieve the solution." Parents Involved VII, supra, at 1191. For the foregoing reasons, this conclusory argument cannot sustain the plans. However closely related race-based assignments may be to achieving racial balance, that itself cannot be the goal, whether labeled "racial diversity" or anything else. To the extent the objective is sufficient diversity so that students see fellow students as individuals rather than solely as members of a racial group, using means that treat students solely as members of a racial group is fundamentally at cross-purposes with that end.

 

C

 


 
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