The Battle over Brown: How Conservatives Appropriated Brown v. Board of Education
UVA Law Faculty Affiliations
The Supreme Court’s decision in last week’s school desegregation cases represents the culmination of a 50-year-old debate about the meaning and content of Brown v. Board of Education. The conservatives have now taken over Brown, no question.
Justices in the majority—like the new chief justice, John Roberts, and Justice Clarence Thomas—can invoke Brown for the proposition that the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prevents states from treating individuals differently on the basis of race. They invoke the mantra of the “color-blind Constitution” to strike down voluntary school desegregation plans in Seattle and Louisville, Ky.
In passionate dissents, justices John Paul Stevens and Stephen G. Breyer lament the conservatives’ treatment of Brown. Stevens describes their reliance on Brown as “cruel irony.” And Breyer describes their comparison of state-mandated racial segregation in the 1950s with contemporary voluntary desegregation plans as a “cruel distortion of history.”