423 U.S. 963 (1975), 74-1418, Buchanan v. Evans

Docket Nº:No. 74-1418.
Citation:423 U.S. 963, 96 S.Ct. 381, 46 L.Ed.2d 293
Party Name:Madeline BUCHANAN et al. v. Brenda EVANS et al.
Case Date:November 17, 1975
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 963

423 U.S. 963 (1975)

96 S.Ct. 381, 46 L.Ed.2d 293

Madeline BUCHANAN et al.


Brenda EVANS et al.

No. 74-1418.

United States Supreme Court.

November 17, 1975

Rehearing Denied Jan. 19, 1976.

On appeal from the United States District Court for the District of delaware.

Facts and opinion, D.C., 393 F.Supp. 428.


The judgment is affirmed.

Mr. Justice REHNQUIST, with whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE and Mr. Justice POWELL join as to Parts I and II B, dissenting.

Appellants insist that the judgment of the District Court is wrong under our holding in Milliken v. Bradley, 418 U.S. 717, 94 S.Ct. 3112, 41 L.Ed.2d 1069 (1974), while appellees insist that it is consistent with that case. But this case comes here as an appeal from an order of a three-judge District Court enjoining the enforcement of a state statute, a question not even present in Milliken. The three-judge District Court by its order of April 16, 1975, enjoined appellants from relying upon 1

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provisions of [96 S.Ct. 382] a Delaware statute which by their terms had expired six years earlier. Because in doing so I believe the District Court decided an issue that is demonstrably moot, I would reverse its judgment on this point. Since the additional question of whether the Milliken issues briefed by the parties are properly before us under any conceivable theory is one which veritably bristles with jurisdictional problems, I would note probable jurisdiction and set the case for argument on these points. The Court's summary affirmance, in my opinion, not only wrongfully upholds an erroneous injunction issued by the District Court, but because of the difficult jurisdictional questions present in this case leaves totally beclouded and uncertain what is decided by that summary affirmance.


The challenged Delaware statute, known as the Educational Advancement Act, was enacted by the legislature in June 1968 'to provide the framework for an effective and orderly reorganization of the existing school districts of this State through the retention of certain existing school districts and the combination of other existing school districts.' 14 Del.C. § 1001. 2

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Appellant Delaware State Board of Education and its members were placed under an explicit timetable by this statute. By September 1, 1968, it was to develop specific criteria for implementing a reorganization plan in accordance with requirements contained in the statute; by October 24, 1968, it was required to develop a plan conforming to these criteria, to submit the plan to local boards of education, and to receive and pass on their objections to the proposed plan. 14 Del.C. § 1004(a) and (b). Section 1005 provided that on July 1, 1969, 'all proposed school districts contained in the plan as adopted [under § 1004] shall be constituted and established as reorganized school districts.' 3

Section 1004(c) contained an exclusion which was the basis of appellees' constitutional attack on the statute. 4 It provided [96 S.Ct. 383] that, in contrast to the wide discretion

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conferred upon the state board with respect to other school districts in the State, the city of Wilmington should constitute a single school district. The District Court sustained appellees' claim that this provision invidiously discriminated against Negroes, finding that although there had been no intent to do so on the part of the legislature the effect of the statute was to lock in Negro school children within the Wilmington school district in a way that might not have resulted if that district had been subject to the state board's discretionary power to consolidate as were the remaining districts in the State under the 1968 legislation. The District Court summarized this portion of EEA in the following language:

'The key reorganization provisions of the Act provided an exemption of approximately one year from the long-standing requirement in Delaware law that consolidation of contiguous school districts must be approved by a referendum in each of the districts affected. 14 Del.C. §§ 1001-05. In other words, for a limited time, the State Board of Education was authorized to consolidate school districts according to the dictates of sound educational administration and certain statutory criteria. The Wilmington School District was explicitly excluded from the reorganization powers of the State Board by § 1004(c)(4): 'The proposed school district for the City of Wilmington shall be the City of Wilmington with the territory within its limits.' Wilmington was also excluded implicitly from any consolidation plan by § 1004(c)(2), which limited

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the maximum pupil enrollment in any proposed school district to 12,000.' 393 F.Supp., at 438 (emphasis added).

The difficulty with the District Court's holding, quite apart from its constitutional merits, is that the statute authorized action by appellant state school board only until July 1, 1969. As the District Court explicitly found, the reorganization powers from which Wilmington was excluded lapsed on that date. After that date, neither the city of Wilmington nor Negro school children attending schools in the city could suffer any discrimination as a result of the state board's enforcement of the statute: the state school board no longer had unilateral power to effect consolidation. That step can be accomplished only by approval of the voters in the affected school districts by referendum. Under 14 Del.C. § 1027, while a voter-approved consolidation plan can be rejected by the state board in its discretion, a voter-rejected consolidation plan can not be resurrected by the state board. 5

Thus by July 1, 1969, the state board had been relegated, Cinderella-like, to the status which it occupied prior to the 1968 legislation. The provision of § 1004(c), limiting the authority of the state board with

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respect to the school district consisting of the city of Wilmington, was relevant, if at all, [96 S.Ct. 384] at the time this case was heard by the three-judge court, only as an historical fact. Whatever may be the proper weight to be accorded this historical fact in the assessment by a single-judge district court of the factors made relevant in Milliken, it was functus officio as a part of an operative statute.

A three-judge District Court cannot enjoin the operation of a statute which has expired by the time the Court's decree is entered. Indeed, so strongly has this Court felt about the necessity for a 'live controversy' that it has vacated the judgment of the District Court where the statute was repealed after the ruling of that court but before decision here. Diffenderfer v. Central Baptist Church, 404 U.S. 412, 92 S.Ct. 574, 30 L.Ed.2d 567 (1972). A fortiori, a prayer for restraint against a state officer's enforcement of a statute which expired prior to litigation presents a dead issue. The grant of judicial power in Art. III of the United States Constitution limits federal courts to cases or controversies, and a dispute about the constitutionality of a statute which is no longer in effect is moot in the classical sense.


Presumably the...

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