395 U.S. 225 (1969), 798, United States v. Montgomery County Board of Education

Docket Nº:No. 798
Citation:395 U.S. 225, 89 S.Ct. 1670, 23 L.Ed.2d 263
Party Name:United States v. Montgomery County Board of Education
Case Date:June 02, 1969
Court:United States Supreme Court

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395 U.S. 225 (1969)

89 S.Ct. 1670, 23 L.Ed.2d 263

United States


Montgomery County Board of Education

No. 798

United States Supreme Court

June 2, 1969

Argued April 28, 1969




This action was commenced in May, 1964, to obtain integration in the Montgomery County, Alabama, public schools. The District Judge issued his initial order in 1964 requiring integration of certain grades and followed this by yearly proceedings, with reports by the school board and hearings, opinions, and court orders. The 1968 court order dealt, among other things, with faculty and staff desegregation and provided that the school board must move toward a goal whereby, "in each school, the ratio of white to Negro faculty members is substantially the same as it is throughout the system." A panel of the Court of Appeals modified the order. A petition for rehearing en banc was denied by an equally divided Court of Appeals.

Held: The District Judge's order is approved as written by him. Pp. 231-237.

400 F.2d 1, reversed and remanded.

BLACK, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

In this action, the United States District Court at Montgomery, Alabama, ordered the local Montgomery County Board of Education to bring about a racial desegregation

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of the faculty and the staff of the local county school system. 289 F.Supp. 647 (1968). Dissatisfied with the District Court's order, the board appealed. A panel of the Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court's order but, by a two-to-one vote, modified it in part, 400 F.2d 1 (1968).1 A petition for rehearing en banc was denied by an evenly divided court, six to six, thereby leaving standing the modifications in the District Court's order made by the panel.2 On petitions of the United States as intervenor below in No. 798, and the individual plaintiffs in No. 997, we granted certiorari. 393 U.S. 1116 (1969).

Fifteen years ago, on May 17, 1954, we decided that segregation of the races in the public schools is unconstitutional. Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (Brown I). In that case, we left undecided the manner in which the transition from segregated to unitary school systems would be achieved, and set the case down for another hearing, inviting the Attorney General of the United States and the Attorneys General of the States providing for racial segregation in the public schools to present their views on the best ways to implement and enforce our judgment. We devoted four days to the argument on this single problem, and all the affected parties were given the opportunity to present their views at length. After careful consideration of the many viewpoints so fully aired by the parties, we announced our decision in Brown II, 349 U.S. 294 (1955). We held that the primary responsibility for abolishing the system of segregated schools would rest with the local school authorities. In some of the States that argued before us, the laws permitted, but did not require, racial segregation,

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and we noted that, in some of these States, "substantial steps to eliminate racial discrimination in public schools have already been taken. . . ." Id. at 299. Many other States had for many years maintained a completely separate system of schools for whites and nonwhites, and the laws of these States, both civil and criminal, had been written to keep this segregated system of schools inviolate. The practices, habits, and customs had for generations made this segregated school system a fixed part of the daily life and expectations of the people. Recognizing these indisputable facts, we neither expected nor ordered that a complete abandonment of the old and adoption of a new system be accomplished overnight. The changes were to be made "at the earliest practicable date," and with "all deliberate speed." Id. at 300, 301. We were not content, however, to leave this task in the unsupervised hands of local school authorities, trained as most would be under the old laws and practices, with loyalties to the system of separate white and Negro schools. As we stressed then,

[I]t should go without saying that the vitality of these constitutional principles cannot be allowed to yield simply because of disagreement with them.

Id. at 300. The problem of delays by local school authorities during the transition period was therefore to be the responsibility of courts, local courts so far as practicable, those courts to be guided by traditional equitable flexibility to shape remedies in order to adjust and reconcile public and private needs. These courts were charged in our [89 S.Ct. 1672] Brown II opinion, id. at 300, with a duty to:

require that the defendants [local school authorities] make a prompt and reasonable start toward full compliance with our May 17, 1954, ruling. Once such a start has been made, the courts may find that additional time is necessary to carry out the ruling in an effective manner. The burden rests

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upon the defendants to establish that such time is necessary in the public interest and is consistent with good faith compliance at the earliest practicable date.

The record shows that neither Montgomery County nor any other area in Alabama voluntarily took any effective steps to integrate the public schools for about 10 years after our Brown I opinion. In fact, the record makes clear that the state government and its school officials attempted in every way possible to continue the dual system of racially segregated schools in defiance of our repeated unanimous holdings that such a system violated the United States Constitution.3

There the matter stood in Alabama in May, 1964, when the present action was brought by Negro children and their parents, with participation by the United States as amicus curiae. Apparently, up to that time, Montgomery County, and indeed all other schools in the State, had operated, so far as actual racial integration was concerned, as though our Brown cases had never been decided. Obviously...

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