Originally published in the New Haven Register June 10, 2018.
In 1967, the Supreme Court struck down a Virginia law banning interracial marriages, on the grounds that the ban violated the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. The law prohibited state officials from issuing marriage licenses until the government determined the applicants had properly identified their race.
That landmark decision, Loving v. Virginia, which is the story of Richard and Mildred Loving, discredited the idea, then widely accepted, that government should be in the business of determining racial classifications and making policy decisions based on those classifications.
A half century later, it’s widely understood that policies based on race are a formula for denying individuals the equal protection of the law. Yet remarkably, when it comes to school admissions, state and local officials define and rely on racial classifications all the time to require discrimination against individuals based solely on the color of their skin — even in 2018.
Such is the case in Connecticut, where Hartford public schools’ process for admitting students to the region’s interdistrict magnet schools have been exposed as a new twist on old-fashioned discrimination. To prevent “racial isolation,” Connecticut law requires that at least 25 percent of each magnet school’s student body be white or Asian. Schools that want to continue receiving grants and avoid financial penalties are required to cap black and Hispanic enrollment at 75 percent.
Therefore, these schools must leave seats empty if enrolling an additional black or Hispanic child would breach the 75 percent quota. As a result of this perverse system, even though classroom space is available, thousands of minority kids are denied admission to these world-class magnet schools simply because of their race.
Pacific Legal Foundation has filed a lawsuit in Hartford on behalf of seven black and Hispanic families to challenge this unconstitutional law.
The harm is not limited to Hartford. It was recently announced that New Haven’s popular and well-regarded Cortlandt V.R. Creed High School will not reopen in the fall as a result of the state’s racial quota policy. Creed, unable to maintain the arbitrary 25/75 percent ratio, was threatened with financial penalties by the state. Four other New Haven magnet schools face the same threat.
This situation could have been avoided had Connecticut learned the lesson of Loving v. Virginia and adopted race-neutral policies —consistent with our founding principles as delineated in the Declaration of Independence and in the Constitution’s 14th Amendment, which prohibits governments from denying “to any person” the “equal protection of the laws.”
You might have thought race classification and discrimination were artifacts of a past era. Unfortunately, these pernicious race-based policies are alive and well in Connecticut, and unconstitutional. Pacific Legal Foundation intends to right this wrong in the courts.
Here’s the bottom line: Government officials have no business classifying individuals according to race. The harm suffered by Hartford and New Haven students shows that race-based policies, even if undertaken with ostensibly good intentions, have no place in America.
Oliver Dunford is an attorney for Pacific Legal Foundation, which litigates nationwide to achieve court victories enforcing the Constitution’s guarantee of individual liberty.