What Does the Court's Decision Mean?

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Ted Shaw, Director-Counsel and President of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, continues the Supreme Court conversation with the other side of the desegregation story.

TONY COX, host:

For the other side of the story, I spoke with Ted Shaw, who was leaving the courthouse at the time. He is director-counsel and president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. He was also integrally involved in fighting these cases.

I asked him if he thought this ruling was the last nail in the coffin of programs that take race and America's legal racial - America's legacy of racial discrimination into account.

Mr. TED SHAW (Director-Counsel; President, NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund): No. That was a fear that many of us shared. And today's opinion, certainly, are deeply troubling and in some respects, they lost because the two school districts that were at issue, Seattle and Louisville had their plan struck down and there are five votes that seemed to see these kinds of plans as unconstitutional.

On the other hand, rather than a 5-4 split, this is more of a 4-4-1 split. It's reminiscent of the Supreme Court's decision en banc with Justice Powell's opinion bridged two camps. Justice Kennedy clearly rejects the proposition that Chief Justice Roberts and three other justices would have held that race can never be considered in assignment of public school students and that the school districts could do nothing to try to desegregate or integrate or to maintain or achieve diversity.

He doesn't buy that. He thinks that there's still a compelling state interest in having racial integration in public schools and doing something about de facto segregation, as it's called, that exist.

But the window is still left open. But, you know, it's still a troubling set of opinions.

COX: To follow that point, Chief Justice Roberts wrote in his majority opinion that, quote, "The way to stop discrimination is to stop discriminating." How practical is that?

Mr. SHAW: The problem with that supposition is that it holds that trying to desegregate or integrate public schools - trying to include people is racial discrimination that is tantamount to the discrimination that black folks and other people of color suffered under the regime of white supremacy and that's simply a false assumption.

If Chief Justice Roberts and those who agree with him have their way, we would be preempted from doing anything about continued racial inequality unless we could prove that the specific actor engaged in intentional racial discrimination in a very clumsy way that's clearly not enough.

Look, one of the most powerful moments that I've seen in the Supreme Court occurred today and that was the dissent read from the bench of Justice Breyer, a lengthy, powerful dissent that I think anyone who's concerned about racial justice and the Supreme Court should read.

But he says, before he put this is the context of our continuing struggle to overcome both our history and continuing racial inequality for one reason or another, there are four justices of the court who simply don't see that.

COX: Ted, your 25 years with the Legal Defense Fund career is coming to an end in February with your resignation. Rulings like this, do they discourage you, particularly, coming at the time that they do with regard to your own personal career?

Mr. SHAW: Well, first of all, while I am going to leave the Legal Defense Fund in 2008, I will never step away from the issues that I have devoted my life to and that I care about. And I refused to be discouraged. In fact, what happens is that they get my blood flowing. It convinces me that we have to redouble our efforts. We have to continue to fight, and there are moments when I may be tempted sometimes to be discouraged but I know that when that happens, we might as well lay down that the other side wins. So I've learned that hope is not serendipitous. It's a choice. And we have to chose hope and then work to make that hope reality.

COX: Ted Shaw, thank you so much for coming on. We appreciate it.

Mr. SHAW: Thank you.

COX: Ted Shaw is director-counsel and president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. We also talked with Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards yesterday before the Supreme Court announced its decision. The former senator from North Carolina admitted he was worried about several recent rulings by the high court.

Mr. JOHN EDWARDS (Former Democratic Senator, North Carolina): I am very concerned about it. If you look at what's happening with the court, there are many 5-4 decisions, which are moving in the direction of taking away the rights, taking away civil rights, taking away the rights of women, taking away the rights of minorities.

And so I think that we have great reason to be concerned. It's a great indicator, by the way, of how crucial it is for my party to win the White House in 2008 because the next president's going to have huge control over the shape of the U.S. Supreme Court.

COX: Again, that was Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards. To hear our complete interview, tune in tomorrow.

And one last note before we leave this segment, in California's 37th Congressional District, the death of Congresswoman Juanita Millender-McDonald in April left a power vacuum in the district that includes parts of Compton, South L.A. and Long Beach, but a special election earlier this week has cleared things up a bit.

African-American Assemblywoman Laura Richardson of Long Beach bested 17 other candidates. The Democrat is heavily favored to win a runoff election is scheduled for August 21st.

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