Eternal Control of the Department of Justice


This past month was a busy one. In addition to teaching intensive summer school courses, I served as an expert witness for a school district in Texas currently trying to get out from under a desegregation order that has been in place for forty years. The U.S. Department of Justice opposes the district’s effort to be released, so the case went to a federal court and the judge is still deliberating. I’m reluctant to go into specifics about this before it has ended, but I have few very general observations.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about this case is that keeping the district under court supervision has accomplished nothing, and yet the DOJ is fighting to maintain the status quo. At the time the order began, the district had a majority white and a minority black student population. Today, Hispanics constitute the largest number of students, there are a small but substantial number of Asians, and white representation in the district has declined. But the court order addresses only black and white students.

Desegregation was intended to end discriminatory practices and to eliminate the consequences of past de jure discrimination. In this district, though, all of the evidence suggests that the local school board and the school administrators self-consciously avoid anything that can be seen as discriminatory, and aggressively recruit scarce minority teachers and staff members. The changing demographics of the district alone suggest that pre-1970 practices are now ancient history. Even more to the point, no black citizens within the district actively support maintaining the current state of affairs, and all of the black administrators and teachers who testified want to free their district from federal direction and move on.

The DOJ seems to devote little attention to practices and processes, or with changing demographics. Its concern is with statistical outcomes for one group. If black students are one-third of those in the district, then, from the DOJ’s perspective, they should be one-third of those receiving positive outcomes and one-third receiving negative outcomes. In the specific area of my involvement in this case, that of discipline, the fact that black students were more likely to receive disciplinary responses than others was taken, on its face, as a suggestion of discrimination, even though this is the situation in virtually every district across the nation.

The odd thing is that the supposedly discriminatory outcomes are occurring in this district that has been under supervision for four decades. If federal oversight hasn’t achieved categorical equality in this period of time, then it won’t. I could not see any reason that the DOJ should not simply agree to let this district go. The only conceivable answer is that a self-perpetuating bureaucracy needs to maintain its power.

The Moral Liberal Sociology Editor, Carl L. Bankston III is Professor of Sociology at Tulane University in New Orleans, LA. He is the author and co-author of a number of books and numerous articles published in academic journals. An incomplete list of his books includes: Growing Up American: How Vietnamese Children Adapt to Life in the United States (with Min Zhou, 1998), Blue Collar Bayou: Louisiana Cajuns in the New Economy of Ethnicity (with Jacques Henry, 2002), and A Troubled Dream: The Promise and Failure of School Desegregation in Louisiana (2002), Forced to Fail: The Paradox of School Desegregation (hardback, 2005; paperback, 2007), and Public Education – America’s Civil Religion: A Social History (2009) (all with Stephen J. Caldas). View Professor Carl L. Bankston’s Page here. He blogs at Can These Bones Live?

Copyright © 2012 Carl L. Bankston III.