The Rockford school case continues, and, as the most recent ruling by Magistrate P. Michael Mahoney makes clear, there is no end in sight. On August 11, the imperial ruler of Rockford denied the school board’s motion for “unitary status,” a legal term denoting the end of court control. In itself, that’s no surprise: Other than a couple of board members with delusions of grandeur, no one expected this case to end after only 11 years and one-quarter of a billion dollars. Still, the vehemence of the magistrate’s attack on the “white majority” of the school board for appearing on a stage with a “co-founder of . . . the League of the South” (namely, the editor of this magazine) struck most people in Rockford as a bit excessive.
The second Rally for Rockford, to which the magistrate referred, took place on February 16, 1998, and featured, among others, Don Manzullo, the congressman for Illinois’ 16th District, and Stephen Presser, the legal affairs editor for Chronicles and the Raoul Berger Professor of Legal History at Northwestern University School of Law. (See Cultural Revolutions, May and July 1998.) Interestingly, Mahoney fails to note their presence at the event, and he doesn’t acknowledge that it was sponsored by The Rockford Institute, rather than the League of the South (which had nothing to do with it). Instead, he characterizes the rally as a series of “rousing speeches before a raucous crowd.” He condemns the school board members for exercising their rights to free speech and free association, writing: “Board President Patricia Delugas, Vice President Theodore Biondo, and member Mr. [David] Strommer, all members of the white majority, were featured guests at this rally. Ms. Delugas and Mr. Strommer testified at trial that they had received personal pleas from the head of the local chapter of the NAACP alerting them to [Thomas] Fleming’s associations and urging them not to attend. . . . They did attend, however, and together with Mr. Biondo appeared on the dais with Mr. Fleming himself.” In a footnote, Mahoney complains that “The videotape of the rally reveals that Mr. Fleming, in his own speech that night, characterized the federal courts as ‘imperial’ and the undersigned magistrate judge as a ‘viceroy.'” The statements made by the board members and Dr. Fleming, he argued, “speak for themselves. They do not show the court, much less the minority community a good faith commitment to the [desegregation] decree or the principles underlying it.”
Of course, as Mahoney’s own ruling indicates, the school district has implemented (to the detriment of public education in Rockford) almost every element of the court’s decree. That fact has left many in Rockford scratching their heads: If the board has followed the court’s orders (even while they were appealing them), then why shouldn’t the district be released from court control? This straightforward bit of logic, however, misses the point. The magistrate’s insistence that “good faith” is measured by words, rather than deeds, is an attempt to turn the rule of law on its head. Compliance with the law has always been measured by action; under Mahoney, it must be measured by purity of thought. The board members’ exercise of their First Amendment rights to free speech and free association have become hate crimes. The same is true of those who would like to see Rockford return to neighborhood schools (the only successful form of public education). One of the statements that the magistrate believes “speak for themselves” was made by Patti Delugas: “Neighborhood schools are illegal and inherently racist. False!”
School board members aren’t the only citizens of Rockford who Mahoney seems to think are guilty of hate crimes. He begins his attack on the “white majority” of the board by noting that “Historically, the Rockford Board of Education has been predominantly made up of white members. That holds true today: five of the seven members currently sitting are white, while one is Hispanic and one is African-American.” In the magistrate’s eyes, the voters have shown their own bad faith by electing a “white majority.” (Never mind that the district’s seven subdistricts have been gerrymandered to ensure minority representation; or that only 14 percent of the population of Rockford is black, while less than ten percent is Hispanic; or that the board’s votes rarely—if ever—split along racial lines.) Refusing to grant the district unitary status, Mahoney writes: “The court’s experience in this case and the evidence admitted at trial make one proposition exceedingly clear: This Board, at this time, cannot be fully trusted with the constitutional welfare of the minority students committed to its care.” Apparently, he finds it irrelevant that the parents of those minority students helped elect this board; the court must retain control until the voters become more enlightened.
While the riding mentions the possibility of ending the case by 2006, everything is conditioned on “good faith,” as determined by the magistrate. Local business leaders and politicians are trying to claim that the ruling reveals the light at the end of the tunnel, but the average citizen of Rockford knows better; Since August 11, “For Sale” signs have been popping up like mushrooms after a rain.
Leave a Reply