Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education

PETITIONER: Crystal D. Meredith, custodial parent and next friend of Joshua Ryan McDonald
RESPONDENT: Jefferson County Board of Education et al.
LOCATION: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

DOCKET NO.: 05-915
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2006-2009)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

CITATION: 551 US 701 (2007)
GRANTED: Jun 05, 2006
ARGUED: Dec 04, 2006
DECIDED: Jun 28, 2007

Francis J. Mellen, Jr. - argued the cause for Respondents
Paul D. Clement - argued the cause for Petitioner
Teddy B. Gordon - argued the cause for Petitioner

Facts of the case

Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) were integrated by court order until 2000. After its release from the order, JCPS implemented an enrollment plan to maintain substantial racial integration. Students were given a choice of schools, but not all schools could accommodate all applicants. In those cases, student enrollment was decided on the basis of several factors, including place of residence, school capacity, and random chance, as well as race. However, no school was allowed to have an enrollment of black students less than 15% or greater than 50% of its student population.

Meredith and other parents sued the school district, arguing that the plan's racial classifications violated the students' Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection of the laws. Under the Supreme Court's decisions in Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger, race-based classifications must be directed toward a "compelling government interest" and must be "narrowly tailored" to that interest.

The District Court ruled that the plan was constitutional because the school had a compelling interest in maintaining racial diversity. The court held that though the plan paid "some attention to numbers," it did not constitute a rigid quota system. According to the Supreme Court's precedents, rigid racial quotas are never narrowly tailored. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the District Court without issuing an opinion of its own, and Meredith appealed to the Supreme Court. (See also Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District #1, No. 05-908)


1) Do Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger allow a school district to use race as the sole factor to assign high school students to public schools?

2) Can a student enrollment plan that requires each school's student population to be between 15% and 50% African-American meet the Fourteenth Amendment's requirement that racial classifications be narrowly tailored to a compelling government interest?

Media for Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 04, 2006 in Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 28, 2007 in Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

I have the announcement in case No. 05-908, Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 and case number 05-915 Meredith v. Jefferson County Bd. of Education.

The Parents Involved case comes to us from the Ninth Circuit and concerns the adoption and implementation by the Seattle School District where a student assignment plan that requires all students to identify themselves as either white or non-white.

Seattle then uses the racial classifications to help insure that the racial balance at certain schools falls within a predetermined range based on the racial composition of the school district as a whole.

Seattle assignment plan allows incoming ninth graders to choose from among any of the district’s high schools, ranking the schools in order of preference.

If too many students list the same school as their first choice the district employees a series of tiebreakers to determine who will fill the open slots at the oversubscribed school.

The first tiebreaker selects students who have a sibling at the school.

The second tiebreaker is based on race if the school is racially imbalanced under Seattle’s plan and that it has too many non-white students than white students will be selected for admission.

If the school has too many white students then non-white students will be selected to move the school closer to the desired racial balance.

Petitioner parents involved the group of parents whose children have been or maybe dined assignment to their chosen school in Seattle solely because of their race challenged the constitutionality of Seattle’s assignment plan under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The Ninth Circuit found that Seattle’s use of racial classifications was narrowly tailored to serve a compelling government interest and upheld the plan.

The Meredith case comes to us from the Sixth Circuit and concerns the Jefferson County Kentucky Student assignment plan.

Jefferson County is basically metropolitan Louisville; Jefferson County classifies its students as either black or other and makes a school assignment based on among other factors the district’s racial guidelines which require all schools to maintain black enrolment of between 15 and 50%.

Petitioner Crystal Meredith enrolled her son Joshua a kindergartner in Jefferson County’s schools upon moving to the district and after he was assigned to a school far from home, she thought to transfer Joshua to a nearby elementary school.

Jefferson County denied Joshua’s transfer application even though the school he wish to attend had available space because his transfer would have had an adverse effect on his current school’s compliance with the racial guidelines.

Meredith challenged Jefferson County’s use of the racial guidelines under the Equal Protection Clause and the Sixth Circuit upheld the school districts assignment policy.

We granted certiorari in both cases and now reverse in both.

In an opinion for the Court filed with the Clerk today we find that this racial classification violates the constitution for the following reasons, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment allows government classification on the basis of race only where the classification satisfy the familiar “strict scrutiny” test that is were the racial classifications are shown by the government to be narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling government interest.

Our prior cases evaluating the use of racial classifications in the school context have recognizes two such compelling interest.

The first is the compelling interest of remedying the effects of past intentional discrimination such as prior segregation by law.

The Seattle public schools have not argued that they may use these racial classifications because they were previously segregated by law and they have never been subject to court ordered desegregation.

The Jefferson County public schools were previously segregated by law and were subject to a desegregation decree entered in 1975 but this decree was dissolved in 2000 upon a finding that the district had “eliminated the vestiges associated with the former policy of segregation” and does had achieved what is known as unitary status.

Neither school district argues that this remedial justification provides a compelling interest for their racial classifications.

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 v. Bollinger.

The diversity interest found compelling in that case was however not racial diversity alone, the use of race in Grutter was upheld only as part of a “highly individualized holistic review.”

We emphasize that the use of race was constitutional because it was part of a broader assessment of diversity and not simply an effort to achieve racial balance that the court said in Grutter would be “patently unconstitutional.”

In these cases in contrast to Grutter race is not considered as part of a broader effort to achieve “exposure to widely diverse people, cultures, ideas and viewpoints.”

Race for some students is determinative standing alone.

The court in Grutter defined a specific type of broad-based diversity and emphasized the unique context of higher education in upholding the racial classifications.

Neither of these characteristics exists in these cases and the compelling interest in student body diversity in higher education recognized in Grutter cannot support the districts use of race.

When it comes to the narrow tailoring requirement we conclude that the districts have not met their burden of showing that these racial classifications are necessary to achieve their stated ends.