Monday, July 2, 2007

The Lawyers who Represented Black Schoolchildren in Brown React to the Chief' Justice's Interpretation of their Words

On page 40 of his opinion in the Seattle and Louisville school cases, Chief Justice Roberts quotes directly from the 1952 oral argument transcript in Brown v. Board of Education to support his notion that the Constitution is colorblind:

"As counsel who appeared before this Court for the plaintiffs in Brown put it: ‘We have one fundamental contention which we will seek to develop in the course of this argument, and that contention is that no State has any authority under the equal protection clause. . .to use race as a factor in affording educational opportunities among its citizens.’ There is no ambiguity in that statement."

Don’t tell that to the actual lawyers who represented the black schoolchildren in Brown. In response to the ruling, these lawyers have stated that the Chief Justice has, “misinterpreted the positions they had taken in the litigation [and] misunderstood the true meaning of Brown." The New York Times, in a June 29 article entitled, “The Same Worlds, but Differing Views,” gathered these responses from the Brown lawyers themselves:

-Robert L. Carter, the lawyer who Roberts quotes directly (and now a 90-year-old senior federal judge in Manhattan) explains how the Chief Justice distorted the purpose of and historical context behind his words:

"All that race was used for at that point in time [the 1950s] was to deny equal opportunity to black people. It’s to stand that argument on its head to use race the way they use is now."

-Columbia Professor Jack Greenberg, who worked on the Brown case for the plaintiffs, called Roberts’ interpretation “preposterous.” He explained that,

“The plaintiffs in Brown were concerned with the marginalization and subjugation of black people. They said you can’t consider race, but that’s how race was being used. . . Following Brown, there was massive resistance. This is essentially the rebirth of massive resistance in more acceptable form.”

-William T. Coleman Jr., a lawyer in Brown who now works as a lawyer in Washington, explained that,

“The majority opinion is 100 percent wrong. It’s dirty pool to say that the people Brown was supposed to protect are the people it’s now not going to protect.”

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