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Actions against a county can be maintained in United States courts in order to vindicate federally guaranteed rights. An injunction against paying tuition grants and giving tax credits while public schools remain closed is appropriate and necessary where those grants and tax credits have been essential parts of a county's program to deprive non-white children of the same advantages of a public school education enjoyed by children in every other part of a state. A district court may, if necessary to prevent further racial discrimination, require the county officials to exercise the power that is theirs to levy taxes to raise funds adequate to reopen, operate, and maintain without racial discrimination a public school system in the county like that operated in other counties in the state.
To avoid the desegregation ordered by the United States Supreme Court in Davis v County School Board of Prince Edward County, Virginia (decided together with Brown v Board of Education (1954) 347 US 483, 98 L ed 873, 74 S Ct 686, 38 ALR2d 1180), the respondent county officials closed the county public schools and contributed to the support of the private segregated white schools which took the place of the public schools; at the same time public schools in all the other counties of the state were being maintained. Petitioners then filed a supplemental complaint, seeking to enjoin respondents from refusing to operate a system of free public schools and to enjoin payment of public funds to help support private schools which excluded students on account of race. The trial court ruled in favor of petitioners on both issues, but the appellate court reversed, holding that the trial court should have abstained to await state court determination of the contested tuition grants. Certiorari was granted.
Under the circumstances, should the trial court have abstained to await state court determination of the contested tuition grants?
On certiorari, the United States Supreme Court reversed the appellate court's order of abstention and held that respondent could not give tuition grants to students to attend private white only schools and that the trial court could order respondent to reopen the public schools. According to the Court, the closing, for the purpose of avoiding desegregation ordered by the United States Supreme Court, of public schools in one county, while such schools in all the other counties of the state were being maintained, and meanwhile contributing to the support of the private segregated white schools that took the place of the public schools, deprived colored students of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.