The members of the Supreme Court of Kentucky are, standing, left to right: Justice Will T. Scott, Justice Wil Schroder, Deputy Chief Justice Mary C. Noble and Justice Bill Cunningham; and seated, left to right: Justice Lisabeth Hughes Abramson, Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr. and Justice Daniel J. Venters.

(Editor’s note: This post was updated at 9:30 a.m. on April 13. The original version misstated Jefferson County Public School assignment guidelines.)

If you think the row over the U.S. Supreme Court agreeing to rule on the Affordable Care Act was heated, fasten your seat belts.

Louisville may be revisiting one of the most contentious legal battles of the last decade: school assignment. Which could end up back before SCOTUS.

Louisville attorney Teddy Gordon and his clients are asking the Kentucky Supreme Court to end Jefferson County Public School’s student assignment plan, a plan that uses busing to maintain school diversity.

The Kentucky court is scheduled to hear oral arguments Wednesday, April 18 on the assignment plan and how it relates to a 1975 Kentucky law – last amended in 1996 – that gives parents the right to send their children to the public school nearest their home.

This is a hot-button issue for a lot of parents, though an anti-busing crusade took Republican State Senate President David Williams nowhere in his run against Gov. Steve Beshear last year.

Gordon, you’ll recall, was the winning attorney in Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education in 2007. In that landmark case, the conservative Roberts Court ruled states can no longer use student race as the sole factor in school assignment, erasing the 1954 Brown v. The Topeka Board of Education that desegregated American public schools.

The Roberts Court and Gordon argue there is no more racism or de facto or de jure desegregation in America, so race-based assignment plans meant to ensure equal access to a quality education are unconstitutional.

Before Meredith, JCPS officials classified students as either “black” or “other,” and used busing to maintain at least 15 percent – and no more than 50 percent – non-white school populations to make all schools diverse.

Since then, JCPS has reworked its school assignment, trying to forestall the return to full segregation that has occurred in other school systems across the United States. This time, the test for where students go to school is based on “demographic diversity,” with even the Roberts Court unlikely to rule African-Americans have reached financial parity with whites.

That could all change, though, if Gordon wins. His argument hinges on how the Kentucky Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of KRS 159.070, which is fairly unambiguous: “Within the appropriate school district attendance area, parents or legal guardians shall be permitted to enroll their children in the public school nearest their home.” Gordon’s position is that the Kentucky General Assembly never repealed that portion of the law, so once the federal desegregation law was lifted in 2000, this Kentucky statute is enforceable.

In June, 2010, Gordon filed the complaint against JCPS for Scott Arnold. Arnold’s five-year old daughter’s nearest school is Cochrane Elementary in Jeffersontown, but she was assigned to Engelhard Elementary at First and St. Catherine streets downtown, 15 miles from the Arnold home, according to a release from Gordon.

Judge Irv Maze dismissed the suit in August, 2011. Gordon appealed, with the Court of Appeals reversing Maze. And, so, here we are.

Opponents of the JCPS plan contend the cost of having a dual schedule bus system for elementary schools and high schools is too expensive and burdensome for parents and students.

Proponents of continued assignment plans including the Louisville Urban League, the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights, and the Louisville Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People filed an amici curiae brief in January. The “friend of the court” position is that KRS 159.070 was passed by the Kentucky legislature in 1975, at the height of racial tensions in Louisville over forced busing.

Arguments will start at 10 a.m. April 28, with each side getting 15 minutes, according to a news release from Gordon.

The Kentucky Supreme Court Courtroom is located on the second floor of the state Capitol at 700 Capitol Ave. in Frankfort.

Oral arguments are also available through the Supreme Court live stream on the Kentucky Court of Justice website here.

Oral arguments are available online as they occur in real time, but are not available as archives.

The Supreme Court is the state court of last resort and the final interpreter of Kentucky law, according to Gordon’s release. Which is sort  of true. The losing party can appeal to the actual court of last resort, which seems keen of late to settle what are essentially social engineering issues.

 

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Terry Boyd
Terry Boyd has seven years experience as a business/finance journalist, and eight years a military reporter with European Stars and Stripes. As a banking and finance reporter at Business First, Boyd dealt directly with the most influential executives and financiers in Louisville.

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