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Third Circuit Rules Race Not a Factor in LMSD Redistricting

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By Dyanna Quizon, Esq. on December 16, 2011 9:01 AM

Using the rational basis test, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Wednesday that the Lower Merion School District’s redistricting plan was constitutional.

The ruling upholds the lower court’s finding that the district did not inappropriately use race as an influencing factor in determining where students go to school.

The lawsuit was initially filed by nine unnamed African American students who alleged the school district’s new redistricting plan in 2009 was racially-motivated. Some parents claimed the buses taking students to farther schools because of the redistricting plan were dubbed the “loser cruiser” and “the black bus.”

Although U.S. district Judge Michael M. Baylson did find that the school board used race as one of several motivating factors in drawing new school assignment plans, he held it did not break any laws.

The Third Circuit found that LMSD "used pristine, non-discriminatory goals as the focal points of its redistricting plan." However, it came to the same conclusion as the lower court that the plan was constitutional using a different test than the lower court - rational instead of strict.

Because the Third Circuit found that the school assignment plans neither classified on the basis of race nor had a discriminatory purpose, it did not even bother using the most stringent standard of judicial review typically reserved for cases in which a fundamental constitutional right is allegedly infringed or government action possibly involves a suspect classification such as race.

Unlike other cases where race was obviously used as a factor, such as in University of California Regents v. Bakke, the LMSD case did not involve a plan that included racial classification. Just because "the decisionmakers were aware of or considered race when adopting the plan," does not automatically entitle it to strict scrutiny.

The Third Circuit also did not find evidence of either a discriminatory application or a discriminatory effect of the facially-neutral policy.

In the end, using the rational basis test, the Third Circuit found that LMSD's plan was "rationally related to a legitimate state interest."

With the Third Circuit's ruling, LMSD hopes this will be the last it will see of the lawsuit.
"We firmly believe this ruling should be the final chapter in this dispute and sincerely hope that our resilient community can continue to work together on behalf of all our children," the district wrote in a statement.

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