Nicholas Lemann in The New Yorker:
Just before the end of the past term, the Court issued a decision, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, that signalled a complete departure from more than half a century of jurisprudence on race. The case is called Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1, and it addresses a legal challenge to two city school systems—Seattle’s and Louisville’s—for consciously trying to achieve racial integration in assigning students to particular schools. Roberts, in his decision, is almost reverential toward the last major Supreme Court decision on race, which in 2003 upheld the University of Michigan Law School’s use of race as a factor in admissions. But the thrust of his argument—“The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race”—makes it impossible to imagine that he would have joined the majority in the Michigan case had he been on the Court at the time.
Justice Clarence Thomas, who dissented in the Michigan case, wrote a concurring opinion in the Parents Involved decision that is far more confrontational than Roberts’s, and lays out once again his long-held view of race and the courts. We have a “color-blind Constitution,” he asserts, even though the Supreme Court refused to recognize this until its monumental, unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education, in 1954. The essence of Brown, Thomas believes, is an absolute prohibition on taking race into account for any reason. “What was wrong in 1954 cannot be right today,” he writes.