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Law School Case Brief

Milliken v. Bradley - 418 U.S. 717, 94 S. Ct. 3112 (1974)

Rule:

The scope of a 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. 

Facts:

In a class action instituted in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan against certain state officials and the Board of Education of the city of Detroit, seeking desegregation of Detroit's public schools, the District Court ultimately concluded that the defendants had engaged in unconstitutional activities for which the state was responsible, and which had resulted in de jure segregation in the city school district, and ordered the submission of desegregation plans for the city alone, and for the 3-county metropolitan area, even though the suburban school districts were not parties to the action and there was no claim that they had committed any constitutional violations. Some of the suburban school districts were permitted to intervene solely to advise the court as to the propriety and form of any metropolitan desegregation plan, and the District Court, in subsequent proceedings, ruled that (1) it could properly consider relief in the form of an inter-district, metropolitan desegregation plan, even though there was no showing that the suburban school districts had committed any constitutional violations, (2) proposed "Detroit-only" plans were inadequate, since desegregation limited to the city schools would not produce a racial balance reflecting the racial composition of the metropolitan area as a whole, but would only accentuate the racial identifiability of the city school system as a black system, leaving many of its schools 75 to 90 percent black, (3) to effectively desegregate Detroit schools, it was necessary to look beyond school district lines, which were simply matters of political convenience, and to develop a metropolitan plan with a desegregation area including 53 suburban school districts plus Detroit (a panel being appointed to prepare such a plan), and (4) a specified number of school buses should be obtained to provide transportation under an interim plan to be developed for the coming school year. The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed as to the findings of de jure segregation in the Detroit school district and the propriety and necessity of a metropolitan desegregation plan, since the state was responsible for the de jure segregation in Detroit and had authority to control local school districts, but remanded for joinder, as parties to the case, of all suburban districts that might be affected by any metropolitan remedy, and vacated the District Court's order as to acquisition of school buses, subject to the District Court's right to consider reimposing the order at an appropriate time.

Issue:

Did federal courts have the authority to impose a multi-district desegregation plan when there is only evidence of a single district engaging in activities that perpetuated segregation in schools?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

The United States Supreme Court stated that a federal remedial power could be exercised only on the basis of a constitutional violation and the nature of the violation would determine the scope of the remedy. The court further found that before the boundaries of separate and autonomous school districts could be set aside by imposing a cross-district remedy, it must first be shown that there had 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.

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