State Rep. Edward Moukawsher has sent a request to the Connecticut legislative leadership asking for a formal opinion from the attorney general about whether the state’s racial balance law is constitutional in light of what is occurring in Groton.
A legislator cannot ask for such an opinion alone, so Moukawsher is going this route. He sent the letter to House Speaker Christopher Donovan and Majority Leader Brendan Sharkey on Sept. 24.
“Citizens of our state should not be forced to go to court to establish their constitutional rights,” Moukawsher wrote. “A formal opinion of the attorney general as legal counsel to all state agencies, including the Department of Education, and in his capacity to protect the public interest in the rights of Connecticut’s citizens would be the more sensible and timely means of addressing this important issue.”
Moukawsher said he was prompted to write the letter after Groton School Board Member Bob Peruzzotti wrote that he won’t support a redistricting plan that buses minority students across town and he believes the state’s racial balance requirement violates the law.
The plan would move 20 percent of the town’s elementary school students and split the federally-subsidized housing complex Branford Manor between two schools, sending about half of the students to Mary Morrisson Elementary and half to Catherine Kolnaski Magnet School. Branford Manor has mostly minority students.
Peruzzotti cited the 2007 Supreme Court decision of Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1, in which the court ruled that students could not be assigned to schools based on race and that maintaining racial balance was not a compelling state interest.
In Moukawsher’s letter, he also quoted from the opinion, which said: “In design and operation, the plans are directed only to racial balance, pure and simple, an objective this Court has repeatedly condemned as illegitimate.”
The opinion also said, “Accepting racial balancing as a compelling state interest would justify the imposition of racial proportionality throughout American society, contrary to our repeated recognition that ‘(a)t the heart of the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection lies the simple command that the Government must treat citizens as individuals, not as simply components of a racial, religious, sexual or national class.’”
Donovan and Sharkey could not immediately be reached for comment.
The full text of Moukawsher's letter can be read in a PDF attached to this article.