The Scary Origins of Chief Justice Roberts’s Decision Opposing the Use of Race to Promote Integration

By Nancy MacLean

Ms. MacLean is author of Freedom Is Not Enough: The Opening of the American Workplace (Harvard University Press, 2006) and Professor and Chair of History at Northwestern University.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts reversed a half-century of precedent and progress on civil rights with his decision on school desegregation. That was the prerogative granted him by the President and the party who entrusted him to shift the Supreme Court to the right.

But no one should grant Roberts a free pass when he says “the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race. ” His opinion has its lineage in a well-documented conservative strategy to hijack civil rights rhetoric to roll back advances toward substantive equality.

Roberts’s decision, which denied local communities the right to choose race-conscious methods, is replete with quotable phrases from the lexicon conservative strategists honed in their think tanks in the 1970s and then carried into the nation’s courtrooms through their various legal societies.

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