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Law School Case Brief

Milliken v. Bradley - 433 U.S. 267, 97 S. Ct. 2749 (1977)


The well-settled principle that the nature and scope of the remedy are to be determined by the violation means simply that federal-court decrees must directly address and relate to the constitutional violation itself. Because of this inherent limitation upon federal judicial authority, federal-court decrees exceed appropriate limits if they are aimed at eliminating a condition that does not violate the Constitution or does not flow from such a violation, or if they are imposed upon governmental units that were neither involved in nor affected by the constitutional violation. But where a constitutional violation has been found, the remedy does not exceed the violation if the remedy is tailored to cure the condition that offends the Constitution.


After the United States Supreme Court determined that an interdistrict remedy for de jure segregation in the Detroit school system exceeded the constitutional violation, and remanded the case for formulation of a decree, the district ordered submission of desegregation plans limited to the Detroit school system. In addition to a plan for student assignment, ithe district court included in its decree educational components, proposed by the Detroit School Board, in the areas of reading, in-service teacher training, testing, and counseling, and directed that the costs were to be borne by petitioners Detroit School Board and the State. The Court of Appeals affirmed the order concerning the implementation of and cost sharing after determining that a constitutional violation existed based on the unlawful segregation of students on the basis of race. Petitioners again sought certiorari review, arguing that the district court exceeded its scope when it ordered the formulation of remedial desegregation plan as well as the state defendants to defray the costs of those programs.


Does the district court ‘s order exceed the scope of constitutional violation when it issued a remedial desegration plan rather than just remedying unlawful pupil assignments?




The United States Supreme Court concluded that the district court's decree was aptly tailored to remedy the consequences of the constitutional violation. The court did not find that the district court did not abuse its broad and flexible equity powers. Holding that the established role of local school authorities was maintained inviolate, and the fashioned remedy was remedial, the Supreme Court held that the order did not punish anyone, nor did it impair or jeopardize the local educational system. Therefore, in fashioning and effectuating its desegregation decree, the district court was true to equitable principles.

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