Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Bd. of Educ.

402 U.S. 1, 91 S. Ct. 1267 (1971)



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 United States 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.


 In the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, an action was brought for the purpose of requiring the defendant, a North Carolina county school board, to cease maintaining a racially segregated, dual public school system. All parties agreed that the school system failed to achieve the "unitary" school system required by the Equal Protection Clause. The District Court approved a desegregation plan at the commencement of the action, but after the passage of several years, the school system, which included approximately 29 percent Negro students and 71 percent white students, remained substantially segregated. The District Court found the school board's further proposals for desegregation inadequate and appointed an expert who provided additional desegregation proposals. The District Court ordered, among other things (1) that faculty members be reassigned in such a manner as to result in the ratio of Negro and white faculty members in each school being approximately the same as the ratio of Negro and white faculty members throughout the school system; (2) that in accordance with the school board's plan, as modified by the expert's plan, new attendance zones be created for secondary schools, and some inner-city Negroes be transported to outlying, predominantly white schools, so that the percentage of Negroes would range from about 17 percent to less than 36 percent in each high school and would range from about 9 percent to about 33 percent in each junior high school; and (3) that in accordance with the expert's plan, new attendance zones and pairing and grouping of schools be used for elementary schools, and the amount of busing of elementary school students be substantially increased, so that the percentage of Negroes in each elementary school would range from about 9 percent to about 38 percent (311 F Supp 265). The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the orders pertaining to faculty desegregation and secondary school rezoning and busing, but vacated the order pertaining to elementary school students on the ground that the amount of additional busing would be unnecessarily extensive (431 F2d 138). On remand from the Court of Appeals, the District Court requested the school board to adopt a new plan for elementary school students, but after the school board failed to do so, the District Court reinstated the expert's plan.


Did the district court act accordingly?




The Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals as to those parts in which it affirmed the judgment of the district court. The Court upheld the district court's flexible use of mathematical ratios as a starting point rather than as an inflexible requirement. It held that the district court's plan was reasonable, feasible, and workable, even though it required busing.

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