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Race and Redistricting: Ardmore Students Take Case to SCOTUS

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on March 15, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Last December, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals found in favor of the Lower Merion School District, in Pennsylvania, in a case that alleged that a plan to reassign certain students to a different school was racially motivated.

Now, nine African American students from Ardmore are petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Third Circuit’s decision, reports The Philadelphia Inquirer.

The decision was rendered by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals on December 14, 2011. The students alleged that the implemented school district plan violated the Equal Protection Clause.

The District Court applied strict scrutiny and held in favor of the school district, saying that it employed nondiscriminatory goals in achieving its redistricting plan and that race was not used impermissibly as a factor in the redistricting plan.

The school district's goals included the following:

1. The enrollment of the two high schools and two middle schools will be equalized;

2. Elementary students will be assigned so that the schools are at or under the school capacity;

3. The plan may not increase the number of buses required;.

4. The class of 2010 will have the choice to either follow the redistricting plan or stay at the high school of their previous year; (referred to as grandfathering) and

5. Redistricting decisions will be based upon current and expected future needs and not based on past practices.

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court's overall conclusion but held that strict scrutiny was the incorrect standard.

The Appeals Court stated that the school reassignment plan did not classify students on the basis of race nor did it have a discriminatory purpose. As such, the court held that it passed constitutional muster. It also held that race was not used as a factor to assign benefits or burdens in the school assignment process, the plan was not applied in a discriminatory manner and that it did not have a racially discriminatory purpose. As such, the court decided, the appropriate standard for review was not strict scrutiny but rather, rational purpose.

Under the rational purpose standard, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals held that the redistricting plan was appropriate.

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