The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system,
which includes the city of
1. Today's objective is to eliminate from the public schools all vestiges of state-imposed segregation that was held violative of equal protection guarantees by Brown v. Board of Education.
2. In default by the school authorities of their affirmative obligation to proffer acceptable remedies, the district courts have broad power to fashion remedies that will assure unitary school systems.
3. Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not restrict or withdraw from the federal courts their historic equitable remedial powers.
4. Policy and practice with regard to faculty, staff, transportation, extracurricular activities, and facilities are among the most important indicia of a segregated system, and the first remedial responsibility of school authorities is to eliminate invidious racial distinctions in those respects. Normal administrative practice should then produce schools of like quality, facilities, and staffs.
5. The Constitution does not prohibit district courts from using their equity power to order assignment of teachers to achieve a particular degree of faculty desegregation.
6. In devising remedies to eliminate legally imposed segregation, local authorities and district courts must see to it that future school construction and abandonment are not used and do not serve to perpetuate or re-establish a dual system.
7. Four problem areas exist on the issue of student assignment:
(1) Racial quotas. The constitutional command to desegregate schools does not mean that every school in the community must always reflect the racial composition of the system as a whole; here the District Court's very limited use of the racial ratio - not as an inflexible requirement, but as a starting point in shaping a remedy - was within its equitable discretion.
(2) One-race schools. While the existence of a small number of one-race, or virtually one-race, schools does not in itself denote a system that still practices segregation by law, the court should scrutinize such schools and require the school authorities to satisfy the court that the racial composition does not result from present or past discriminatory action on their part.
An optional majority-to-minority transfer provision has long been recognized as a useful part of a desegregation plan, and to be effective such arrangement must provide the transferring student free transportation and available space in the school to which he desires to move.
(3) Attendance zones. The remedial altering of attendance zones is not, as an interim corrective measure, beyond the remedial powers of a district court. A student assignment plan is not acceptable merely because it appears to be neutral, for such a plan may fail to counteract the continuing effects of past school segregation. The pairing and grouping of noncontiguous zones is a permissible tool; judicial steps going beyond contiguous zones should be examined in light of the objectives to be sought. No rigid rules can be laid down to govern conditions in different localities.
(4) Transportation. The District Court's conclusion that assignment of children to the school nearest their home serving their grade would not effectively dismantle the dual school system is supported by the record, and the remedial technique of requiring bus transportation as a tool of school desegregation was within that court's power to provide equitable relief. An objection to transportation of students may have validity when the time or distance of travel is so great as to risk either the health of the children or significantly impinge on the educational process; limits on travel time will vary with many factors, but probably with none more than the age of the students.
8. Neither school authorities nor district courts are constitutionally required to make year-by-year adjustments of the racial composition of student bodies once a unitary system has been achieved.
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.
We granted certiorari in this case to review important issues as to the duties of school authorities and the scope of powers of federal courts under this Court's mandates to eliminate racially separate public schools established and maintained by state action.
This case and those argued with it arose in States having a long history of maintaining two sets of schools in a single school system deliberately operated to carry out a governmental policy to separate pupils in schools solely on the basis of race. That was what Brown v. Board of Education was all about. These cases present us with the problem of defining in more precise terms than heretofore the scope of the duty of school authorities and district courts in implementing Brown I and the mandate to eliminate dual systems and establish unitary systems at once. Meanwhile district courts and courts of appeals have struggled in hundreds of cases with a multitude and variety of problems under this Court's general directive. Understandably, in an area of evolving remedies, those courts had to improvise and experiment without detailed or specific guidelines. This Court, in Brown I, appropriately dealt with the large constitutional principles; other federal courts had to grapple with the flinty, intractable realities of day-to-day implementation of those constitutional commands. Their efforts, of necessity, embraced a process of "trial and error," and our effort to formulate guidelines must take into account their experience. . .
The objective today remains to eliminate from the public schools all vestiges of state-imposed segregation. Segregation was the evil struck down by Brown I as contrary to the equal protection guarantees of the Constitution. That was the violation sought to be corrected by the remedial measures of Brown II. That was the basis for the holding in Green that school authorities are "clearly charged with the affirmative duty to take whatever steps might be necessary to convert to a unitary system in which racial discrimination would be eliminated root and branch."
If school authorities fail in their affirmative obligations under these holdings, judicial authority may be invoked. Once a right and a violation have been shown, the scope of a district court's equitable powers to remedy past wrongs is broad, for breadth and flexibility are inherent in equitable remedies.
. . .
The Court of Appeals, searching for a term to define the equitable remedial power of the district courts, used the term "reasonableness." In Green, supra, this Court used the term "feasible" and by implication, "workable," "effective," and "realistic" in the mandate to develop "a plan that promises realistically to work, and . . . to work now." On the facts of this case, we are unable to conclude that the order of the District Court is not reasonable, feasible and workable. However, in seeking to define the scope of remedial power or the limits on remedial power of courts in an area as sensitive as we deal with here, words are poor instruments to convey the sense of basic fairness inherent in equity. Substance, not semantics, must govern, and we have sought to suggest the nature of limitations without frustrating the appropriate scope of equity.
At some point, these school authorities and others like them should have achieved full compliance with this Court's decision in Brown I. The systems would then be "unitary" in the sense required by our decisions in Green and Alexander.
It does not follow that the communities served by such systems will remain demographically stable, for in a growing, mobile society, few will do so. Neither school authorities nor district courts are constitutionally required to make year-by-year adjustments of the racial composition of student bodies once the affirmative duty to desegregate has been accomplished and racial discrimination through official action is eliminated from the system. This does not mean that federal courts are without power to deal with future problems; but in the absence of a showing that either the school authorities or some other agency of the State has deliberately attempted to fix or alter demographic patterns to affect the racial composition of the schools, further intervention by a district court should not be necessary.
For the reasons herein set forth, the
judgment of the Court of Appeals is affirmed as to those parts in which it
affirmed the judgment of the District Court. The order of the District Court,
It is so ordered.
Respondents brought this class action,
alleging that the
(a) The District Court erred in using as a standard the declared objective of development of a metropolitan area plan which, upon implementation, would leave "no school, grade or classroom . . . substantially disproportionate to the overall pupil racial composition" of the metropolitan area as a whole. The clear import of Swann v. Board of Education is that desegregation, in the sense of dismantling a dual school system, does not require any particular racial balance.
(b) While boundary lines may be bridged in circumstances where there has been a constitutional violation calling for inter-district relief, school district lines may not be casually ignored or treated as a mere administrative convenience; substantial local control of public education in this country is a deeply rooted tradition.
(c) The interdistrict remedy could extensively disrupt and alter the structure of public education in Michigan, since that remedy would require, in effect, consolidation of 54 independent school districts historically administered as separate governmental units into a vast new super school district, and, since - entirely apart from the logistical problems attending large-scale transportation of students - the consolidation would generate other problems in the administration, financing, and operation of this new school system.
(d) From the scope of the interdistrict plan itself, absent a complete restructuring of the Michigan school district laws, the District Court would become, first, a de facto "legislative authority" to resolve the complex operational problems involved and thereafter a "school superintendent" for the entire area, a task which few, if any, judges are qualified to perform and one which would deprive the people of local control of schools through elected school boards.
(e) Assuming, arguendo, that the State was derivatively responsible for Detroit's segregated school conditions, it does not follow that an interdistrict remedy is constitutionally justified or required, since there has been virtually no showing that either the State or any of the 85 outlying districts engaged in any activity that had a cross-district effect.
(h) An isolated instance of a possible
segregative effect as between two of the school
districts involved would not justify the broad
metropolitanwide remedy contemplated, particularly since
that remedy embraced 52 districts having no
responsibility for the arrangement and potentially involved 503,000 pupils in
484 F.2d 215, reversed and remanded.
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.
Ever since Brown v. Board of Education, judicial consideration of school desegregation cases has begun with the standard:
"[I]n the field of public education the doctrine of `separate but equal' has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal."
This has been reaffirmed time and again as the meaning of the Constitution and the controlling rule of law.
The target of the Brown holding was clear and forthright: the elimination of state-mandated or deliberately maintained dual school systems with certain schools for Negro pupils and others for white pupils. . .
Proceeding from these basic principles, we
first note that in the District Court the complainants sought a remedy aimed
at the condition alleged to offend the Constitution - the segregation within
"The task before this court, therefore, is
now, and . . . has always been, how to desegregate the
Thereafter, however, the
District Court abruptly rejected the proposed Detroit-only plans on the ground
that "while [they] would provide a racial mix more in keeping with the
Black-White proportions of the student population [they] would accentuate the
racial identifiability of the
While specifically acknowledging that the
District Court's findings of a condition of segregation were limited to
"impossible to declare `clearly erroneous'
the District Judge's conclusion that any Detroit only
segregation plan will lead directly to a single segregated
Viewing the record as a
whole, it seems clear that the District Court and the Court of Appeals shifted
the primary focus from a
Here the District Court's approach to what constituted "actual desegregation" raises the fundamental question, not presented in Swann, as to the circumstances in which a federal court may order desegregation relief that embraces more than a single school district. The court's analytical starting point was its conclusion that school district lines are no more than arbitrary lines on a map drawn "for political convenience." Boundary lines may be bridged where there has been a constitutional violation calling for interdistrict relief, but the notion that school district lines may be casually ignored or treated as a mere administrative convenience is contrary to the history of public education in our country. No single tradition in public education is more deeply rooted than local control over the operation of schools; local autonomy has long been thought essential both to the maintenance of community concern and support for public schools and to quality of the educational process.
It may be suggested that all of these vital operational problems are yet to be resolved by the District Court, and that this is the purpose of the Court of Appeals' proposed remand. But it is obvious from the scope of the interdistrict remedy itself that absent a complete restructuring of the laws of Michigan relating to school districts the District Court will become first, a de facto "legislative authority" to resolve these complex questions, and then the "school superintendent" for the entire area. This is a task which few, if any, judges are qualified to perform and one which would deprive the people of control of schools through their elected representatives.
. . .
The controlling principle consistently expounded in our holdings is that the scope of the remedy is determined by the nature and extent of the constitutional violation. Before the boundaries of separate and autonomous school districts may be set aside by consolidating the separate units for remedial purposes or by imposing a cross-district remedy, it must first be shown that there has been a constitutional violation within one district that produces a significant segregative effect in another district. Specifically, it must be shown that racially discriminatory acts of the state or local school districts, or of a single school district have been a substantial cause of interdistrict segregation. Thus an interdistrict remedy might be in order where the racially discriminatory acts of one or more school districts caused racial segregation in an adjacent district, or where district lines have been deliberately drawn on the basis of race. In such circumstances an interdistrict remedy would be appropriate to eliminate the interdistrict segregation directly caused by the constitutional violation. Conversely, without an interdistrict violation and interdistrict effect, there is no constitutional wrong calling for an interdistrict remedy.
The record before us, voluminous as it is,
contains evidence of de jure segregated conditions
only in the
In dissent, MR. JUSTICE WHITE and MR.
JUSTICE MARSHALL undertake to demonstrate that agencies having statewide
authority participated in maintaining the dual school system found to exist in
The constitutional right of the Negro
respondents residing in
We conclude that the relief ordered by the
District Court and affirmed by the Court of Appeals was based upon an
erroneous standard and was unsupported by record evidence that acts of the
outlying districts effected the discrimination found to exist in the schools
Reversed and remanded.
MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL, with whom MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS, MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN, and MR. JUSTICE WHITE join, dissenting.
In Brown v. Board of Education, this Court held that segregation of children in public schools on the basis of race deprives minority group children of equal educational opportunities and therefore denies them the equal protection of the laws under the Fourteenth Amendment. This Court recognized then that remedying decades of segregation in public education would not be an easy task. Subsequent events, unfortunately, have seen that prediction bear bitter fruit. But however imbedded old ways, however ingrained old prejudices, this Court has not been diverted from its appointed task of making "a living truth" of our constitutional ideal of equal justice under law.
After 20 years of small, often difficult steps toward that great end, the Court today takes a giant step backwards. Notwithstanding a record showing widespread and pervasive racial segregation in the educational system provided by the State of Michigan for children in Detroit, this Court holds that the District Court was powerless to require the State to remedy its constitutional violation in any meaningful fashion. Ironically purporting to base its result on the principle that the scope of the remedy in a desegregation case should be determined by the nature and the extent of the constitutional violation, the Court's answer is to provide no remedy at all for the violation proved in this case, thereby guaranteeing that Negro children in Detroit will receive the same separate and inherently unequal education in the future as they have been unconstitutionally afforded in the past.
I cannot subscribe to this emasculation of
our constitutional guarantee of equal protection of the laws and must
respectfully dissent. Our precedents, in my view, firmly establish that where,
as here, state-imposed segregation has been demonstrated, it becomes the duty
of the State to eliminate root and branch all vestiges of racial
discrimination and to achieve the greatest possible degree of actual
desegregation. I agree with both the District Court and the Court of Appeals
that, under the facts of this case, this duty cannot be fulfilled unless the
The rights at issue in this case are too fundamental to be abridged on grounds as superficial as those relied on by the majority today. We deal here with the right of all of our children, whatever their race, to an equal start in life and to an equal opportunity to reach their full potential as citizens. Those children who have been denied that right in the past deserve better than to see fences thrown up to deny them that right in the future. Our Nation, I fear, will be ill served by the Court's refusal to remedy separate and unequal education, for unless our children begin to learn together, there is little hope that our people will ever learn to live together.
The great irony of the Court's opinion
and, in my view, its most serious analytical flaw may be gleaned from its
concluding sentence, in which the Court remands for "prompt formulation of a
decree directed to eliminating the segregation found to exist in
Nowhere in the Court's opinion does the
majority confront, let alone respond to, the District Court's conclusion that
a remedy limited to the city of
Having concluded, then, that the school
system in the city of
In seeking to define the appropriate scope
of that expanded desegregation area, however, the District Court continued to
maintain as its sole focus the condition shown to violate the Constitution in
this case - the segregation of the
. . .
Vesting responsibility with the State of
. . .
Most significantly for present purposes, the State has wide-ranging powers to consolidate and merge school districts, even without the consent of the districts themselves or of the local citizenry. Indeed, recent years have witnessed an accelerated program of school district consolidations, mergers, and annexations, many of which were state imposed. Whereas the State had 7,362 local districts in 1912, the number had been reduced to 1,438 in 1964 and to 738 in 1968. By June 1972, only 608 school districts remained. Furthermore, the State has broad powers to transfer property from one district to another, again without the consent of the local school districts affected by the transfer.
Whatever may be the history of public
education in other parts of our Nation, it simply flies in the face of reality
to say, as does the majority, that in
. . .
In sum, several factors in this case
coalesce to support the District Court's ruling that it was the State of
What action, then, could the District
Court require the State to take in order to cure
After examining three plans limited to the
. . .
Under our decisions, it was clearly proper for the District Court to take into account the so-called "white flight" from the city schools which would be forthcoming from any Detroit-only decree. The court's prediction of white flight was well supported by expert testimony based on past experience in other cities undergoing desegregation relief. We ourselves took the possibility of white flight into account in evaluating the effectiveness of a desegregation plan in Wright, supra, where we relied on the District Court's finding that if the city of Emporia were allowed to withdraw from the existing system, leaving a system with a higher proportion of Negroes, it "`may be anticipated that the proportion of whites in county schools may drop as those who can register in private academies' . . . ." One cannot ignore the white-flight problem, for where legally imposed segregation has been established, the District Court has the responsibility to see to it not only that the dual system is terminated at once but also that future events do not serve to perpetuate or re-establish segregation.
We held in Swann, supra, that where de jure segregation is shown, school authorities must make "every effort to achieve the greatest possible degree of actual desegregation." If these words have any meaning at all, surely it is that school authorities must, to the extent possible, take all practicable steps to ensure that Negro and white children in fact go to school together. This is, in the final analysis, what desegregation of the public schools is all about.
Because of the already high and rapidly
increasing percentage of Negro students in the
Racially identifiable schools are one of the primary vestiges of state-imposed segregation which an effective desegregation decree must attempt to eliminate. In Swann, supra, for example, we held that "[t]he district judge or school authorities . . . will thus necessarily be concerned with the elimination of one-race schools." There is "a presumption," we stated, "against schools that are substantially disproportionate in their racial composition." And in evaluating the effectiveness of desegregation plans in prior cases, we ourselves have considered the extent to which they discontinued racially identifiable schools. . . .
We cautioned in Swann, of course, that the dismantling of a segregated school system does not mandate any particular racial balance. We also concluded that a remedy under which there would remain a small number of racially identifiable schools was only presumptively inadequate and might be justified. But this is a totally different case. The flaw of a Detroit-only decree is not that it does not reach some ideal degree of racial balance or mixing. It simply does not promise to achieve actual desegregation at all. It is one thing to have a system where a small number of students remain in racially identifiable schools. It is something else entirely to have a system where all students continue to attend such schools.
. . .
The State must also bear part of the blame for the white flight to the suburbs which would be forthcoming from a Detroit-only decree and would render such a remedy ineffective. Having created a system where whites and Negroes were intentionally kept apart so that they could not become accustomed to learning together, the State is responsible for the fact that many whites will react to the dismantling of that segregated system by attempting to flee to the suburbs. Indeed, by limiting the District Court to a Detroit-only remedy and allowing that flight to the suburbs to succeed, the Court today allows the State to profit from its own wrong and to perpetuate for years to come the separation of the races it achieved in the past by purposeful state action.
The majority asserts, however, that
involvement of outlying districts would do violence to the accepted principle
that "the nature of the violation determines the scope of the remedy." Not
only is the majority's attempt to find in this single phrase the answer to the
complex and difficult questions presented in this case hopelessly simplistic,
but more important, the Court reads these words in a manner which perverts
their obvious meaning. The nature of a violation determines the scope of the
remedy simply because the function of any remedy is to cure the violation to
which it is addressed. In school segregation cases, as in other equitable
causes, a remedy which effectively cures the violation is what is required. No
more is necessary, but we can tolerate no less. To read this principle as
barring a district court from imposing the only effective remedy for past
segregation and remitting the court to a patently ineffective alternative is,
in my view, to turn a simple commonsense rule into a cruel and meaningless
paradox. Ironically, by ruling out an interdistrict
remedy, the only relief which promises to cure segregation in the
. . .
To suggest, as does the majority, that a Detroit-only plan somehow remedies the effects of de jure segregation of the races is, in my view, to make a solemn mockery of Brown I's holding that separate educational facilities are inherently unequal and of Swann's unequivocal mandate that the answer to de jure segregation is the greatest possible degree of actual desegregation.
Desegregation is not and was never expected to be an easy task. Racial attitudes ingrained in our Nation's childhood and adolescence are not quickly thrown aside in its middle years. But just as the inconvenience of some cannot be allowed to stand in the way of the rights of others, so public opposition, no matter how strident, cannot be permitted to divert this Court from the enforcement of the constitutional principles at issue in this case. Today's holding, I fear, is more a reflection of a perceived public mood that we have gone far enough in enforcing the Constitution's guarantee of equal justice than it is the product of neutral principles of law. In the short run, it may seem to be the easier course to allow our great metropolitan areas to be divided up each into two cities - one white, the other black - but it is a course, I predict, our people will ultimately regret. I dissent.