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Justices Let Stand Ruling in Topeka Desegregation Lawsuit

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WASHINGTON--The U.S. Supreme Court has let stand a federal appeals court ruling that the Topeka, Kan., school district has failed to desegregate completely in the 39 years after the High Court's watershed ruling in Brown v. Board of Education.

The High Court on June 21 declined to review the ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit. The Supreme Court last year asked the 10th Circuit Court to review its 1989 ruling in the Topeka case in light of recent High Court desegregation decisions in cases from Oklahoma City and DeKalb County, Georgia. (See Education Week, April 29, 1992.)

Last fall, a panel of the 10th Circuit Court voted 2 to 1 to reinstate its 1989 ruling, which called for further remedies to deal with lingering racial imbalances in student enrollments. The majority said the High Court's recent desegregation opinions did not relieve the Topeka district's burden to prove that current racial disparities remain a vestige of the previous system of enforced segregation.

Strict Standard

The Topeka case, which led to the Supreme Court's Brown ruling in 1954, was revived in 1979 by a group of black parents and children led by Linda Brown Smith, the daughter of the original lead plaintiff in the case.

In its appeal to the Supreme Court in Unified School District No. 501 v. Smith (Case No. 92-1568), the Topeka district argued that the appeals court imposed too strict a standard for decisions on whether to end court supervision of desegregation efforts.

The case now goes back to a federal district judge in Kansas.

In a separate desegregation case, the High Court last month refused an appeal by the Lorain, Ohio, school district stemming from its attempt to make the state share more of its desegregation costs.

The appeal in Lorain Board of Education v. Ohio Department of Education (No. 92-1713) involves a 1984 consent decree between the Lorain district, the state, and a group of black plaintiffs. The decree put a $1 million limit on the contribution required of the state, but a federal judge ordered the decree modified in 1991 to require the state to pay as much as $9 million of the district's desegregation costs over the next five years.

The state appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which reversed the district court, saying the judge exceeded his authority to modify a consent decree.

End of the Term

In separate actions late in the term, the High Court:
Declined to revive an Ohio lawsuit in which parents sought to hold school officials responsible for the alleged sexual abuse of 11 disabled children by a teacher in the Princeton district. The case was McCollum v. Board of Education of the Princeton City School District (No. 92-1811).
Made it more difficult for workers to prove illegal job discrimination by ruling that a fired employee does not automaticallly win a bias suit by showing in court that his employer lied about the reasons for an adverse job action.

The Court ruled 5 to 4 in St. Mary's Honor Center v. Hicks (No. 92-602) that workers suing under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 must prove actual discriminatory intent to win a bias case, rather than merely show that an employer's stated reasons for a firing or demotion were false.
Held that states must show a compelling governmental interest for creating oddly shaped voting districts that appear to separate voters by race.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, writing for the majority in the Court's 5 to 4 ruling in Shaw v. Reno (No. 92-357), said "racial gerrymandering'' of the type evidenced in a North Carolina Congressional district "threatens to carry us further from the goal of a political system in which race no longer matters.''
Cleared the way in Hartford Fire Insurance Co. v. California (No. 91-1111) for the main part of an antitrust suit against four large insurance companies to go forward.

Attorneys general from 19 states alleged in suits against the insurance companies that antitrust violations contributed to the liability-insurance crisis of the mid-1980's, which affected state and local governments, including school districts. (See Education Week, March 30, 1988.)
Agreed to decide in the next term whether employers found to have violated Title VII in discharging an employee may go unpunished if they later discover a lawful reason for the dismissal.

The case of Milligan-Jensen v. Michigan Technological University (No. 92-1214) involves a campus security guard who was denied a back-pay award in a job-bias suit because her employer discovered during the course of the litigation that she had lied on her job application.

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