In an ironic twist, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is citing a controversial U.S. Supreme Court decision that it has openly criticized to support its filing of a new school-desegregation lawsuit against the Caddo Parish, La., school board.
The High Court ruled last year in Martin v. Wilkes that white firefighters in Birmingham, Ala., were free to challenge a 1981 consent decree giving preference in hiring and promotions to blacks, because the whites were not a party to the decree.
The n.a.a.c.p., which was a party to the consent decree, and other civil-rights groups have criticized the Wilkes ruling, saying it could lead to a flood of challenges to cases settled voluntarily by participants.
But the opinion in Wilkes may also allow civil-rights groups to challenge consent decrees in school-desegregation cases settled by the U.S. Justice Department under the Reagan Administration without participation from blacks, said Samuel L. Walters, an n.a.a.c.p. lawyer.
Mr. Walters said he is prepared to make that argument in a lawsuit filed last month in federal district court that seeks a new desegregation plan for the Caddo Parish public schools, which serve students in Shreveport, La.
A 1981 consent decree between the Caddo Parish school board and the Justice Department failed to eradicate the vestiges of discrimination in the system, the n.a.a.c.p. charges in its suit.
That decree was hailed by William Bradford Reynolds Jr., then assistant attorney general for civil rights, as an example of how such disputes could be settled by negotiation and voluntary efforts, rather than by protracted litigation and forced busing.
But two-third of the district’s students currently attend schools that are not racially balanced, the new suit charges, and nearly all of the district’s predominantly one-race schools have been assigned principals of the same race.
The n.a.a.c.p. filed the new suit after trying twice, unsuccessfully, to intervene in the older case on behalf of black students.
The school board’s bid to be declared “unitary,” or legally desegregated, has already been delayed by concerns raised by the Justice Department about its adherence to the 1981 decree.--ws
A version of this article appeared in the March 07, 1990 edition of Education Week as New Bias Suit Is Filed Against District in La.