The Constitution and Racial Diversity in Elementary and Secondary Education: A Legal Analysis of Pending Supreme Court Cases

Publication Date: April 2007

Publisher: Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service


Research Area: Education; Social conditions



The diversity rationale for affirmative action in public education has long been a topic of political and legal controversy. Many colleges and universities have established affirmative action policies not only to remedy past discrimination, but also to achieve a racially and ethnically diverse student body or faculty. Although the Supreme Court has recognized that the use of race-based policies to promote diversity in higher education may be constitutional in two recent cases involving the University of Michigan's admissions policies, the Court has never considered whether diversity is a constitutionally permissible goal in the elementary and secondary education setting. To resolve this question, the Supreme Court agreed to review two cases that involve the use of race to maintain racially diverse public schools. Specifically, the Court will consider whether the school plans at issue violate the equal protection guarantee of the Fourteenth Amendment. The cases are Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education and Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1, and the Court's decision is expected to be issued during its 2006-2007 term. This report provides an overview of the lower court decisions in the two cases, coupled with a discussion of the factors that the Supreme Court is likely to consider on review.