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Law School Case Brief

Brown v. Bd. of Educ. - 808 F.2d 1445 (11th Cir. 1987)


The doctrine of "separate but equal" educational facilities is constitutionally unacceptable. School officials are obligated to take whatever steps might be necessary to convert to a unitary system in which racial discrimination would be eliminated root and branch. When school officials do not act according to that obligation, federal courts have the equitable power to fashion remedies for constitutional violations. A prerequisite to the exercise of that equitable power is a finding of a constitutional violation. When a school system has in the past operated a segregated system, a district court's remedy need not be founded on an independent constitutional violation. Each action of the school system, though not unconstitutional in itself or prompted by discriminatory motives, may be examined by a district court and set aside if it interferes with efforts to desegregate the system. 


Appellee Board of Education of the City of Bessemer ("Bessemer") and appellant Board of Education of Jefferson County ("Jefferson") operated under a continuing court order ("Order") to desegregate and to provide a unitary system of education. The Order resulted from the Supreme Court of United States' decision in Brown v. Bd. of Educ., 347 U.S. 483 (1954). As a result of an unrelated lawsuit, Bessemer held annexation elections and 900 children who were attending Jefferson's schools became eligible to attend Bessemer's schools. Concerned that the influx of 900 students into the Bessemer school system would affect the court-approved unitary plan, Bessemer filed: (1) a motion to add Jefferson and its individual members as defendants in the 1954 Brown decision, and; (2) a motion for extraordinary relief ordering Jefferson to continue to educate the students in Parcel B. The motions were referred to a federal magistrate for an evidentiary hearing and recommendation. Bessemer presented evidence at the hearing that it could accommodate the influx of the students from Parcel A, but that the influx of students from Parcel B would prevent it from operating a unitary system under the Order. Accepting some of the magistrate's recommendations and rejecting others, the district court directed Bessemer to accept the responsibility for educating the students in Parcel A but required Jefferson to retain all responsibility for those students residing in Parcel B. Jefferson appealed that order.


Should Jefferson retain all responsibility for educating those students who resided in Parcel B?




The court pf appeals affirmed the district court's order requiring Jefferson to retain responsibility for those students because the relief ordered was within the district court's equitable power. It held that where a school system had in the past operated a segregated system, the remedy did not have to be founded on an independent constitutional violation; the district court was preventing a change in school district boundaries that would have had a substantially segregative impact on Bessemer's school system. This was not an interdistrict remedy because no new or additional burden was being placed on Jefferson's school system.

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