Milliken v. Bradley/Concurrence Stewart

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Milliken v. Bradley by Potter Stewart
Concurring Opinion
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Opinion of the Court
Concurring Opinion
Dissenting Opinions

MR. JUSTICE STEWART, concurring.

In joining the opinion of the Court, I think it appropriate, in view of some of the extravagant language of the dissenting opinions, to state briefly my understanding of what it is that the Court decides today.

The respondents commenced this suit in 1970, claiming only that a constitutionally impermissible allocation of educational facilities along racial lines had occurred in public schools within a single school district whose lines were coterminous with those of the city of Detroit. In the course of the subsequent proceedings, the District Court found that public school officials had contributed to racial segregation within that district by means of improper use of zoning and attendance patterns, optional attendance areas, and building and site selection. This finding of a violation of the Equal Protection Clause was upheld by the Court of Appeals, and is accepted by this Court today. See ante at 738 n. 18. In the present posture of the case, therefore, the Court does not deal with questions of substantive constitutional law. The basic issue now before the Court concerns, rather, the appropriate exercise of federal equity jurisdiction. [1] [p754]

No evidence was adduced and no findings were made in the District Court concerning the activities of school officials in districts outside the city of Detroit, and no school officials from the outside districts even participated in the suit until after the District Court had made the initial determination that is the focus of today's decision. In spite of the limited scope of the inquiry and the findings, the District Court concluded that the only effective remedy for the constitutional violations found to have existed within the city of Detroit was a desegregation plan calling for busing pupils to and from school districts outside the city. The District Court found that any desegregation plan operating wholly "‘within the corporate geographical limits of the city'" would be deficient, since it "‘would clearly make the entire Detroit public school system racially identifiable as Black.'" 484 F.2d 215, 244, 243. The Court of Appeals, in affirming the decision that an inter-district remedy was necessary, noted that a plan limited to the city of Detroit

would result in an all black school system immediately surrounded by practically all white suburban school systems, with an overwhelmingly white majority population in the total metropolitan area.

Id. at 245.

The courts were in error for the simple reason that the remedy they thought necessary was not commensurate with the constitutional violation found. Within a single school district whose officials have been shown to have engaged in unconstitutional racial segregation, a remedial decree that affects every individual school may be dictated by "common sense," see Keyes v. School District No. 1, Denver, Colorado, 413 U.S. 189, 203, and indeed may provide the only effective means to eliminate segregation "root and branch," Green v. County School Board of New Kent County, 391 U.S. 430, 438, and to "effectuate a transition to a racially nondiscriminatory school [p755] system." Brown v. Board of Education, 349 U.S. 294, 301. See Keyes, supra at 198-205. But in this case, the Court of Appeals approved the concept of a remedial decree that would go beyond the boundaries of the district where the constitutional violation was found, and include schools and schoolchildren in many other school districts that have presumptively been administered in complete accord with the Constitution.

The opinion of the Court convincingly demonstrates, ante at 742-743, that traditions of local control of schools, together with the difficulty of a judicially supervised restructuring of local administration of schools, render improper and inequitable such an inter-district response to a constitutional violation found to have occurred only within a single school district.

This is not to say, however, that an inter-district remedy of the sort approved by the Court of Appeals would not be proper, or even necessary, in other factual situations. Were it to be shown, for example, that state officials had contributed to the separation of the races by drawing or redrawing school district lines, see Haney v. County Board of Education of Sevier County, 429 F.2d 364; cf. Wright v. Council of the City of Emporia, 407 U.S. 451; United States v. Scotland Neck Board of Education, 407 U.S. 484; by transfer of school units between districts, United States v. Texas, 321 F.Supp. 1043, aff'd, 447 F.2d 441; Turner v. Warren County Board of Education, 313 F.Supp. 380; or by purposeful, racially discriminatory use of state housing or zoning laws, then a decree calling for transfer of pupils across district lines or for restructuring of district lines might well be appropriate.

In this case, however, no such inter-district violation was shown. Indeed, no evidence at all concerning the administration of schools outside the city of Detroit was presented other than the fact that these schools contained [p756] a higher proportion of white pupils than did the schools within the city. Since the mere fact of different racial compositions in contiguous districts does not itself imply or constitute a violation of the Equal Protection Clause in the absence of a showing that such disparity was imposed, fostered, or encouraged by the State or its political subdivisions, it follows that no inter-district violation was shown in this case. [2] The formulation of an inter-district remedy was thus simply not responsive to the factual record before the District Court, and was an abuse of that court's equitable powers. [p757]

In reversing the decision of the Court of Appeals, this Court is in no way turning its back on the proscription of state-imposed segregation first voiced in Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483"]347 U.S. 483, or on the delineation of remedial powers and duties most recently expressed in 347 U.S. 483, or on the delineation of remedial powers and duties most recently expressed in Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, 402 U.S. 1. In Swann, the Court addressed itself to the range of equitable remedies available to the courts to effectuate the desegregation mandated by Brown and its progeny, noting that the task in choosing appropriate relief is "to correct . . . the condition that offends the Constitution," and that "the nature of the violation determines the scope of the remedy. . . ." Id. at 16.

The disposition of this case thus falls squarely under these principles. The only "condition that offends the Constitution" found by the District Court in this case is the existence of officially supported segregation in and among public schools in Detroit itself. There were no findings that the differing racial composition between schools in the city and in the outlying suburbs was caused by official activity of any sort. It follows that the decision to include in the desegregation plan pupils from school districts outside Detroit was not predicated upon any constitutional violation involving those school districts. By approving a remedy that would reach beyond the limits of the city of Detroit to correct a constitutional violation found to have occurred solely within that city the Court of Appeals thus went beyond the governing equitable principles established in this Court's decisions.


^ . As this Court stated in Brown v. Board of Education, 349 U.S. 294, 300:

[E]quity has been characterized by a practical flexibility in shaping its remedies and by a facility for adjusting and reconciling public and private needs. These [school desegregation] cases call for the exercise of these traditional attributes of equity power.

^ . My Brother MARSHALL seems to ignore this fundamental fact when he states, post at 799, that

the most essential finding [made by the District Court] was that Negro children in Detroit had been confined by intentional acts of segregation to a growing core of Negro schools surrounded by a receding ring of white schools.

This conclusion is simply not substantiated by the record presented in this case. The record here does support the claim made by the respondents that white and Negro students within Detroit who otherwise would have attended school together were separated by acts of the State or its subdivision. However, segregative acts within the city alone cannot be presumed to have produced — and no factual showing was made that they did produce — an increase in the number of Negro students in the city as a whole. It is this essential fact of a predominantly Negro school population in Detroit — caused by unknown and perhaps unknowable factors such as in-migration, birth rates, economic changes, or cumulative acts of private racial fears — that accounts for the "growing core of Negro schools," a "core" that has grown to include virtually the entire city. The Constitution simply does not allow federal courts to attempt to change that situation unless and until it is shown that the State, or its political subdivisions, have contributed to cause the situation to exist. No record has been made in this case showing that the racial composition of the Detroit school population or that residential patterns within Detroit and in the surrounding areas were in any significant measure caused by governmental activity, and it follows that the situation over which my dissenting Brothers express concern cannot serve as the predicate for the remedy adopted by the District Court and approved by the Court of Appeals.