• Last updated on November 11, 2022

In its first school desegregation case involving a major city outside the South, the Supreme Court held that a district-wide busing plan was an appropriate remedy for a situation in which official policies had encouraged the establishment of racially segregated schools in any section within the district.

A federal district judge ordered a desegregation plan for the Park Hill section of Denver, Colorado, after he concluded that school officials had adopted policies promoting and encouraging segregation of the schools in that section. The judge did not require a citywide desegregation plan because of a lack of proof that other neighborhood schools were segregated as a result of intentional policy.School integration and busing;Keyes v. Denver School District No. 1[Keyes v. Denver School District No. 1]

Speaking for a 7-1 majority, Justice William J. Brennan, Jr.,Brennan, William J., Jr.;Keyes v. Denver School District No. 1[Keyes v. Denver School District No. 1] held that a finding of deliberate segregation in one significant portion of a district is sufficient to shift the burden to school officials to prove that segregation elsewhere in the district is not also a result of official policy. School officials could avoid the imposition of a desegregation plan for the entire district only if they could prove that the district had not promoted segregation in some places through its choices of school construction sites, its drawing of attendance zones, and its pursuance of other such policies. Without such evidence, said Brennan, the school board had “an affirmative duty to desegregate the entire system, ’root and branch.’” Rejecting the arguments of two justices, the majority endorsed the continuing validity of the de jure/de facto distinction in school desegregation cases. The case was sent back to the district court, which adopted a system-wide busing plan.

The controversial Keyes decision allowed an expansion of court-ordered busing plans into many urban districts that were primarily segregated on a de facto basis. In Milliken v. Bradley[case]Milliken v. Bradley[Milliken v. Bradley] (1974), however, the Court decided not to extend the reasoning of Keyes to a large urban region that was divided into many school districts.

Milliken v. Bradley

Race and discrimination

School integration and busing

Segregation, de facto

State action

Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education

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