The Rockford school-desegregation lawsuit is finally over—or at least it will be, on Sunday, June 30, 2002. Yesterday—Wednesday, April 18—the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit overruled federal Magistrate P. Michael Mahoney and granted the school district “unitary status” (the legal term for being, in the court’s words, “sufficiently desegregated to require the dissolution of the decree and the return of control of the public schools to the school board”). After 12 years of federal control and $300 million, the citizens of Rockford can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.

No one on either side of the lawsuit was surprised by the ruling. Rockford’s schools have been completely “desegregated” for several years now—”desegregation” defined not as equal access to education, but as quotas. As Judge Richard Posner, writing for the court, observed:

Desegregation had been defined by the magistrate judge as the condition in which the minority composition of each school would not deviate by more than 15 percentage points from the minority composition of the population of the school district. . . . the Rockford public schools are now less segregated than those in any previous case in which a school system was declaredunitary” [emphasis added] . . .

The Seventh Circuit has never cared for Magistrate Mahoney’s excessive zeal in pursuing “remedies,” and the appeals court has repeatedly struck down what Posner refers to as “unrealistic goals for closing the white-minority gap in test scores.” In his opinion, Posner took advantage of one last opportunity to weigh in on the question of equality of result:

[I]t is obvious that other factors besides discrimination contribute to unequal educational attainment, such as poverty, parents’ education and employment, family size, parental attitudes and behavior, prenatal, neonatal, and child health care, peer-group pressures, and ethnic culture.

The mention of “ethnic culture” left one of the lawyers for the plaintiff class seeing red, and she all but accused Posner of being a racist. But multiculturalists can’t have it both ways: If, when you control for all other factors, there is still a disparity of educational result, then the difference must be attributable either to genetics (which multiculturalists vehemently deny) or to culture.

Posner also criticized the assault on free speech by both the plaintiffs’ lawyers and, implicitly. Magistrate Mahoney:

It is not. . . that the school board must “actively” support Hie decree, must express “commitment” to it, and, above all, must not criticize it. The undemocratic implications of this position leave us almost speechless. Are . . . the members of the school board, elected long after and not complicit in the illegalities that gave rise to the litigation, forbidden, under threat of never resuming control of the public school system that they were elected to govern, to criticize a decree that in pursuit of an ambitious and possibly quixotic scheme of social engineering has imposed a formidable tax burden on the people who elected these officials?

In that last sentence, Posner displayed a greater understanding of the concerns of Rockford’s citizens than did the schoolboard members who filed the request for unitary status. This lawsuit has touched on numerous constitutional and social issues: judicial taxation, neighborhood schools, busing, separation of powers federalism. But for most Rockfordians, this case has always been primarily about taxes. That was made abundantly clear in the April 3 school-board elections, when board members Ted Biondo and Patti Delugas—elected on promises to fight judicial taxation, reduce spending, and provide tax relief—were resoundingly defeated by previous opponents Nancy Kalchbrenner and Jay Nellis, whom they had soundly defeated in 1997. By switching their votes on judicial taxation and endorsing three referenda in two years, Biondo and Delugas confused and demoralized their base. (The number of tax protesters plummeted from 16,000 in 1997, the year that they were elected, to fewer than 8,000 in 1999, the year they both voted for the tort fund.) Many of their previous supporters simply didn’t bother to go to the polls this year, and others couldn’t bring themselves to mark the ballot for candidates who had done the very same things that they had claimed their opponents would do.

Few of the real heroes of the last 12 years will ever receive the recognition they deserve: Mary Hitchcock, one of the founders of Rockford Educating All Children (R.E.A.CH.), the citizens’ group that led the battle against the lawsuit; Barb Dent, who ran R.E.A.CH.’s annual tax protest; David Strommer, now in his third term as a board member, who never once wavered in his convictions that judicial taxation and judicial tyranny were wrong. And there are others, too numerous to mention, who faithfully attended board meetings, pounded the pavement for board candidates, and never gave up hope that their efforts would bring us to where we are today.

At the end of 12 years, our freedom is finally in sight, but it’s impossible to forget all that we’ve lost. Our public schools will never recover; few of those who fled Rockford because of the lawsuit will ever return; the city has undergone a dramatic demographic shift over the last decade (more on that in November); and I just heard on the radio that the collective loss of property values in Rockford is estimated at over one billion dollars. Still, on this beautiful spring day, the sun seems to shine a little brighter, and the birds sound a little sweeter. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.