This past May, on the 64th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, a coalition of civil rights groups and students sued the state of New Jersey, calling on its leadership to desegregate New Jersey’s public schools. Nearly half of all black and Latino students in the state, roughly 270,000 children, attend schools that are more than 90 percent non-white. According to the UCLA Civil Rights Project, the Garden State ranks as the sixth most segregated state in the U.S. for black students, and seventh for Latinos.
It’s a rare legal challenge: Since Brown, almost all legal attacks on school segregation have been mounted in federal court. New Jersey’s lawsuit is is only the fifth, in four states, to be brought in state court, relying on a state constitution. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that unless it could be shown that a district deliberately sought to discriminate against students by race, it could not be held responsible for school segregation. By taking aim at state constitutions, lawyers hope to avoid these factual questions about intent.