• Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court held that federal judges could not order the busing of students across school district lines into districts that had done nothing to promote racial segregation.

A federal district judge ordered a desegregation plan for the greater Detroit area, which included the predominantly black central city and fifty-three suburban school districts in which the students were mostly white. The judge had found that the Detroit school board had been guilty of practices that constituted de jure segregation. Although there was no evidence that any of the other districts had promoted segregation, he decided that a Detroit-only plan was inadequate to achieve school desegregation. He justified his order by referring to Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education[case]Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education[Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education] (1971), in which the Court had upheld a massive busing plan designed to desegregate an entire urban school district, even though only portions of the large district had been found to have engaged in discriminatory practices.School integration and busing;Milliken v. Bradley[Milliken v. Bradley]

By a 5-4 margin, the Supreme Court held that the district judge had exceeded his authority. Speaking for the Court, Chief Justice Warren E. BurgerBurger, Warren E.;Milliken v. Bradley[Milliken v. Bradley] emphasized that the remedy of busing was appropriate only when a particular district had been found to have engaged in discriminatory practices or policies. Burger observed that the record in the case did not present any evidence that the suburban districts had either caused or contributed to school segregation. Thus, the Milliken decision reaffirmed the validity of the de facto/de jure distinction and established a presumption against the use of interdistrict busing remedies.

Milliken defused the criticism directed at the Court because of the busing issue, but it did not entirely eliminate controversial interdistrict desegregation plans. In Boston and other cities, court-ordered busing produced intense hostility and even violence. In the 1990’s, however, controversy about the issue decreased as busing became much less common.

Board of Education of Oklahoma City v. Dowell

Race and discrimination

School integration and busing

Segregation, de facto

State action

Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education

Categories: History