Monroe v. Board of Commissioners of City of Jackson, Tenn

Decision Date27 May 1968
Docket NumberNo. 740,740
Citation391 U.S. 450,20 L.Ed.2d 733,88 S.Ct. 1700
PartiesBrenda K. MONROE et al., Petitioners, v. BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS OF the CITY OF JACKSON, TENN. et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

[Syllabus from pages 450-451 intentionally omitted] James M. Nabrit III, New York City, for petitioners.

Russell Rice, Jackson, Tenn., for respondents.

Mr. Justice BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case was argued with No. 695, Green v. County School Board of New Kent County, 391 U.S. 430, 88 S.Ct. 1689, 20 L.Ed.2d 716, and No. 805, Raney v. Board of Education of Gould School District, 391 U.S. 443, 88 S.Ct. 1697, 20 L.Ed.2d 727. The question for decision is similar to the question decided in those cases. Here, however, the principal feature of a desegregation plan—which calls in question its adequacy to effectuate a transition to a racially nondiscriminatory system in compliance with Brown v. Board of Education, 349 U.S. 294, 75 S.Ct. 753, 99 L.Ed. 1083 (Brown II)—is not 'freedom of choice' but a variant commonly referred to as 'free transfer.'

The respondent Board of Commissioners is the School Board for the City of Jackson, located in midwestern Tennessee. The school district coincides with the city limits. Some one-third of the city's population of 40,000 are Negroes, the great majority of whom live in the city's central area. The school system has eight elementary schools, three junior high schools, and two senior high schools. There are 7,650 children enrolled in the system's schools, about 40% of whom, over 3,200, are Negroes.

In 1954 Tennessee by law required racial segregation in its public schools. Accordingly, five elementary schools, two junior high schools, and one senior high school were operated as 'white' schools, and three elementary schools, one junior high school, and one senior high school were operated as 'Negro' schools. Racial segregation extended to all aspects of school life including faculties and staffs.

After Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483, 74 S.Ct. 686, 98 L.Ed. 873, (Brown I), declared such state-imposed dual systems unconstitutional, Tennessee enacted a pupil placement law, Tenn.Code § 49—1741 et seq. (1966). That law continued previously enrolled pupils in their assigned schools and vested local school boards with the exclusive authority to approve assignment and transfer requests. No white children enrolled in any 'Negro' school under the statute and the respondent Board granted only seven applications of Negro children to enroll in 'white' schools, three in 1961 and four in 1962. In March 1962 the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held that the pupil placement law was inadequate 'as a plan to convert a biracial system into a nonracial one.' Northcross v. Board of Education of City of Memphis, 302 F.2d 818, 821.

In January 1963 petitioners brought this action in the District Court for the Western District of Tennessee. The complaint sought a declaratory judgment that respondent was operating a compulsory racially segregated school system, injunctive relief against the continued maintenance of that system, an order directing the admission to named 'white' schools of the plaintiff Negro school children, and an order requiring respondent Board to formulate a desegregation plan. The District Court ordered the Board to enroll the children in the schools in question and directed the Board to formulate and file a desegregation plan. A plan was duly filed and, after modifications directed by the court were incorporated, the plan was approved in August 1963 to be effective immediately in the elementary schools and to be gradually extended over a four-year period to the junior high schools and senior high schools. 221 F.Supp. 968.

The modified plan provides for the automatic assignment of pupils living within attendance zones drawn by the Board or school officials along geographic or 'natural' boundaries and 'according to the capacity and facilities of the (school) buildings * * *' within the zones. Id., at 974. However, the plan also has the 'free-transfer' provision which was ultimately to bring this case to this Court: Any child, after he has complied with the requirement that he register annually in his assigned school in his attendance zone, may freely transfer to another school of his choice if space is available, zone residents having priority in cases of overcrowding. Students must provide their own transportation; the school system does not operate school buses.

By its terms the 'free-transfer' plan was first applied in the elementary schools. After one year of operation petitioners, joined by 27 other Negro school children, moved in September 1964 for further relief in the District Court, alleging respondent had administered the plan in a racially discriminatory manner. At that time, the three Negro elementary schools remained all Negro; and 118 Negro pupils were scattered among four of the five formerly all-white elementary schools. After hearing evidence, the District Court found that in two respects the Board had indeed administered the plan in a discriminatory fashion. First, it had systematically denied Negro children—specifically the 27 intervenors—the right to transfer from their all-Negro zone schools to schools where white students were in the majority, although white students seeking transfers from Negro schools to white schools had been allowed to transfer. The court held this to be a constitutional violation, see Goss v. Board of Education, 373 U.S. 683, 83 S.Ct. 1405, 10 L.Ed.2d 632, as well as a violation of the terms of the plan itself. 244 F.Supp. 353, 359. Second, the court found that the Board, in drawing the lines of the geographic attendance zones, had gerrymandered three elementary school zones to exclude Negro residential areas from white school zones and to include those areas in zones of Negro schools located farther away. Id., at 361—362.

In the same 1964 proceeding the Board filed with the court its proposed zones for the three junior high schools, Jackson and Tigrett, the 'white' junior high schools, and Merry, the 'Negro' junior high school. As of the 1964 school year the three schools retained their racial identities, although Jackson did have one Negro child among its otherwise allwhite student body. The faculties and staffs of the respective schools were also segregated. Petitioners objected to the proposed zones on two grounds, arguing first that they were racially gerrymandered because so drawn as to assign Negro children to the 'Negro' Merry school and white children to the 'white' Jackson and Tigrett schools, and alternatively that the plan was in any event inadequate to reorganize the system on a nonracial basis. Petitioners, through expert witnesses, urged that the Board be required to adopt a 'feeder system,' a commonly used method of assigning students whereby each junior high school would draw its students from specified elementary schools. The groupings could be made so as to assure racially integrated student bodies in all three junior high schools, with due regard for educational and administrative considerations such as building capacity and proximity of students to the schools.

The District Court held that petitioners had not sustained their allegations that the proposed junior high school attendance zones were gerrymandered, saying

'Tigrett (white) is located in the western section, Merry (Negro) is located in the central section and Jackson (white) is located in the eastern section. The zones proposed by the defendants would, generally, allocate the western section to Tigrett, the central section to Merry, and the eastern section to Jackson. The boundaries follow major streets or highways and railroads. According to the school population maps, there are a considerable number of Negro pupils in the southern part of the Tigrett zone, a considerable number of white pupils in the middle and northern parts of the Merry zone, and a considerable number of Negro pupils in the southern part of the Jackson zone. The location of the three schools in an approximate east-west line makes it inevitable that the three zones divide the city in three parts from north to south. While it appears that proximity of pupils and natural boundaries are not as important in zoning for junior...

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