PARENTS INVOLVED in COMMUNITY SCHOOLS v. SEATTLE SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 1 ET AL. (No. 05-908 -- Argued December 4, 2006 -- Decided June 28, 2007)

The Supreme Court of the United States, the highest court in the country, is one of three major branches of the U.S. federal government -- the others the executive branch (the president) and the legislative branch (Congress). The U.S. constitution gives it the power of judicial review, i.e., the power to strike down unconstitutional acts of government, making the Supreme Court an essential part of the system of "checks and balances" system, which is intended as a safeguard against the government's abuse of power. (Liebermann, p.1)

President has the powers to nominate the Justices to the Court, who are then appointed by and with the advice and consent of the Senate. The Presidents, therefore, have always tended to nominate judges who share their ideological views. Currently, there are nine judges in the Supreme Court, seven of whom were appointed by Republican Presidents. The post-World War II history of the U.S. Supreme Court shows that a majority of the judges had a "liberal" bias with the "Warren Court" (1953-69) in particular being responsible for a number of 'liberal decisions' that expanded civil rights, liberties, and judicial powers. With the recent appointment of two 'conservative' judges by President G.W. Bush, i.e., the Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justice Samuel Alito, the tide has arguably turned in favor of Conservatism in the Court. This change is reflected in some of the recent decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court involving abortion, discrimination and the rights of defendants; the latest being its decision in "Parents v. Seattle School District (2007)," which is the subject of discussion of this paper.

Facts of the Case:

The Seattle School District had adopted a system of 'tiebreakers' to decide admissions in schools that were oversubscribed. An important tiebreaker was a racial factor intended to maintain racial diversity. The system sometimes prevented students from gaining admission to schools of their first choice due to their race, if the racial demographics of a school deviated substantially from the overall white to non-white ratio of Seattle's total student population.

Parents of students, who were denied admission to schools of their choice due to their race, sued the District, arguing that their policy of racial tiebreaker violated the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of Equal Protection. The District Court, relying on the Supreme Court's standards of racial classification in higher education dismissed the suit. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, affirmed. ("Parents Involved in Community Schools V. Seattle School District..." Find law)

Questions Before the Supreme Court:

Whether the decisions in Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger also applied to public schools?

Was the Seattle District's decision to deny admission to students to the high school of their choice, a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?


By a 5-4 majority decision, the Court held that the District's racial tiebreaker plan was unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and that the Court's decisions in Grutter and Gratz did not apply in this case.

The Conservative and Liberal Aspects of the Decision:

The plural decision in the case is in many ways reflective of the conservative / liberal divide of the Court. The majority decision, for instance, was written by Chief Justice John Roberts, who is reputed to a "conservative" judge. All the other three justices, Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito, who unreservedly joined in the plural decision, are also the ones who are considered to be decidedly conservative. On the other hand, the three Justices who dissented, namely Justices Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer are firmly categorized as "liberal." Justice Kennedy, who is reputed to be a "moderate" conservative, while concurring with the majority opinion that the Seattle school district violated constitutional guarantees of equal protection, wrote a separate decision in order to keep the door open for the use of race to achieve diversity in schools and did not rule out the use of race as one of the factors.

The line of reasoning provided by the majority as well as the dissenting justices in their recorded opinions, also reflect the ways in which conservatives and liberals generally interpret the question of race and Affirmative Action in the United States. For example, the conservatives oppose Affirmative…