When the government distributes burdens or benefits on the basis of individual racial classifications, that action is reviewed under strict scrutiny. Racial classifications are simply too pernicious to permit any but the most exact connection between justification and classification. The government must demonstrate that the use of individual racial classifications is narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling government interest.
Both school districts adopted plans whereby, after place of residence and availability of space were considered, school assignments were made on the basis of race to ensure that schools were racially balanced. The Supreme Court held that the districts, which did not operate legally segregated schools, denied students equal protection by classifying students by race and relying upon the classification in school assignments. The districts failed to establish a compelling interest in racial diversity since their plans relied on racial classification in a nonindividualized, mechanical way as a decisive factor, and racial imbalance in the schools was not unconstitutional by itself.
Can a public school that had not operated legally segregated schools or has been found to be unitary choose to classify students by race and rely upon that classification in making school assignments?
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. 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." 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. Narrow tailoring requires "serious, good faith consideration of workable race-neutral alternatives," 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. . Moreover, Thhe Fourteenth Amendment prevents states from according differential treatment to American children on the basis of their color or race.