Magnetic filings 

Deseg critics watching the courts

Deseg critics watching the courts

By Liz Murray Garrigan

Critics of the Metro school board’s voluntary desegregation plan, which may receive major funding from Metro Council this summer, are keeping an eye on a federal court case in Charlotte, N.C.

In fact, Metro school board member Murray Philip has threatened to follow the lead of William Cappachione, the father of a Charlotte first-grader. Cappachione has filed a lawsuit, charging that Charlotte-Mecklenberg’s race-conscious admissions policy for magnet school programs is a form of unconstitutional discrimination.

According to the current issue of Education Week, lawyers for white first-grader Cristina Cappachione have “expanded their attack to include a challenge to the district’s entire school desegregation plan. In addition to magnet schools, that plan involves attendance zones drawn with racial balance in mind and some mandatory busing for integration.”

U.S. District Court Judge Richard D. Potter has consolidated the Cappachione case with the school district’s long-dormant desegregation case known as Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education. In so doing, Education Week says, the judge “took the unusual step of raising a volatile issue that no one in the magnet school case had asked him to address: whether the time has come to put the 33-year-old Swann case to rest.”

Philip has faxed copies of the Education Week story to reporters and the mayor’s office. He is convinced the Charlotte case may hold particular significance for Nashville, since here, as in Charlotte, magnet schools must meet black versus non-black racial quotas. Philip and other parents contend that it is unconstitutional to deny magnet school admission to students because of their skin color. If they manage to bring the issue before a judge, there is a good chance they may prevail.

Meanwhile, attorneys who defend the quota system have said that, if it is ruled unconstitutional, the system could simply be changed.

A reconsideration of the Swann case could have impact in Metro. In its 1971 opinion in the case, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that school districts may use mandatory busing—as Nashville has been doing—to integrate schools. The court said it is within “the broad, discretionary powers of school boards” to maintain a “prescribed ratio” of blacks and whites in public schools.

Lawyers for the Metro school board and for the plaintiffs in Nashville’s desegregation case have put a lot of stock in that finding. After all, Mayor Phil Bredesen is requesting $206 million this year, some of it to help fund assignment patterns for students, based in part on race. For the moment, Philip, who questions the constitutionality of using race to assign students, is the lone voice in the wilderness.

A reinterpretation of Swann, Philip warns, might be a nail in the coffin for Nashville’s proposed assignment plan for students. Meanwhile, Philip and other observers are eagerly awaiting an opinion from the Metro Legal Department concerning the constitutionality of the proposed assignment pattern. So far, Metro Legal department officials have been conspicuously silent on the matter.

Testy results

And General Sessions Judge Penny Harrington thought it couldn’t get any worse. The Nashville Bar Association has just released the results of a fresh poll of its membership, revealing their opinions of lawyers and incumbent judges now running in Nashville’s May 5 Democratic primary.

Perhaps the least shocking, but still noteworthy, revelation is the wholesale unpopularity of Harrington, who is leaving her judgeship to run against fellow General Sessions Judge Bill Faimon. Asked for their opinion of Harrington, a whopping 80 percent of bar members with an opinion responded, “do not recommend,” compared to a 6 percent “do not recommend” rating for Faimon. Only 19.71 percent said they would “highly recommend” or “recommend” Harrington for the job, compared with a healthy 93.81 percent who endorsed Faimon.

The Faimon-Harrington contest has emerged as one of the season’s most fascinating races. The only real question is whether Harrington will play it nasty or nice.

The bar association poll also has interesting things to say about the race for the newly created 8th Circuit Court. In that race Carol Soloman, a scrappy, highly political attorney, has sought to portray her opponent, Bass, Berry & Sims attorney Cliff Knowles as a mouthpiece for big business and the privileged class. Apparently, the bar doesn’t feel the same.

Almost 92 percent of the attorneys with an opinion said they would “highly recommend” or “recommend” Knowles for the job, compared with an approval rating of just over 40 percent for Soloman. Nearly 60 percent of the bar association membership with an opinion said they “do not recommend” Soloman, compared to 8 percent who gave Knowles the thumbs-down.

Meanwhile, Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle had good reason to celebrate. The Republican-turned-Democrat is seeking to keep her seat in Chancery Court after being appointed by Gov. Don Sundquist. Only 19 percent of Nashville bar members with an opinion said they would recommend her opponent, former Public Service Commissioner Frank Cochran, compared to Lyle’s 95 percent positive rating. A staggering 81 percent of the lawyers with an opinion said they “do not recommend” Cochran, compared to the slightly less than 5 percent who did not recommend Lyle.

Call Liz at 244-7989, ext. 406, or e-mail her at liz@mail.nashscene.com.

Call Liz at 244-7989, ext. 406, or e-mail her at liz@mail.nashscene.com.

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