Racial rights opinions of Justice John Roberts, racial inequality, race relations in the United States
This article advocates for a fundamental re-understanding about the way that the history of race is understood by the current Supreme Court. Represented by the racial rights opinions of Justice John Roberts that celebrate racial progress, the Supreme Court has equivocated and rendered obsolete the historical experiences of people of color in the United States. This jurisprudence has in turn reified the notion of color-blindness, consigning racial discrimination to a distant and discredited past that has little bearing to how race and inequality is experienced today.
The racial history of the Roberts Court is centrally informed by the context and circumstances surrounding Brown v. Board of Education. For the Court, Brown symbolizes all that is wrong with the history of race in the United States - legal segregation, explicit racial discord, and vicious and random acts of violence. Though Roberts Court opinions suggest that some of those vestiges still exits, the bulk of its jurisprudence indicate the opposite. With Brown’s basic factual premises as its point of reference, the Court has consistently argued that the nation has made tremendous strides away from the condition of racial bigotry, intolerance, and inequity.
The article accordingly argues that the Roberts Court reliance on Brown to understand racial progress is anachronistic. Especially as the nation’s focus for racial inequality turned national in scope, the same binaries in Brown that had long served to explain the history of race relations in the United States (such as Black-White, North-South, and Urban-Rural) were giving way to massive multicultural demographic and geographic transformations in the United States in the years and decades after World War II. All of the familiar tropes so clear in Brown and its progeny could no longer fully describe the current reality of shifting and transforming patterns of race relations in the United States.
In order to reclaim the history of race from the Roberts Court, the article assesses a case that more accurately symbolizes the recent history and current status of race relations today: Keyes v. School District No. 1. This was the first Supreme Court case to confront how the binaries of cases like Brown proved of little probative value in addressing how and in what ways race and racial discrimination was changing in the United States. Thus, understanding Keyesand the history it reflects reveals much about how and in what ways the Roberts Court should rethink its conclusions regarding the history of race relations in the United States for the last 60 years.
Michigan Journal of Race & Law, Vol. 20, No. 2, 2015