The Chinese American Challenge to Court-Mandated Quotas in San Francisco's Public Schools: Notes from a (Partisan) Participant-Observer
16 Harv. Blackletter L.J. 39 (2000)
109 Pages Posted: 6 Dec 2019
Date Written: 2000
Since 1994, I have been involved in a high-profile lawsuit, Ho v. San Francisco Unified School District. This suit challenges the constitutionality of a 1983 consent decree mandating quotas on the assignment of children to all public schools in San Francisco on the basis of their race or ethnicity. As one of the first suits brought by Asian Americans against a court-ordered desegregation plan, it has generated considerable scholarly and popular attention. A settlement of the case has been approved by the court. The time has come to discuss the issues in the case from my perspective as a legal scholar who has also been an active participant in the litigation. The unique issues raised in the Ho suit will certainly continue to be relevant as affirmative action in general, and other court-ordered desegregation plans in particular, come under further scrutiny in the legal, political and academic realms.
This Article discusses the important events in the case and offers the author's reflections on how the case fits into the affirmative action debate today. Part I reviews the most relevant race-discrimination cases brought against the school district prior to the Ho case, especially San Francisco NAACP v. San Francisco Unified School District, which led in 1983 to the entry of the consent decree challenged in Ho. Part II also reviews the experience under the consent decree and describes the events leading to the decision of some Chinese American parents to challenge the consent decree. Part Ill describes how Ho v. San Francisco Unified School District came about in 1994, and the highlights of the highly contentious litigation since then, which culminated in a settlement and modification of the decree on the very day trial was to begin in February 1999. Part III also describes the controversy over the new race-conscious plan the school district proposed in the fall of 1999 as a substitute for the quotas it utilized for fifteen years under the consent decree and agreed to discard as a part of the settlement. The district court rejected the proposed plan in December 1999; at this time, the school district has said it may appeal that decision. Part IV adds to the scholarly debate on the future of court-mandated affirmative action by offering reflections on some of the important issues the Ho suit raises.
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