The U.S. Justice Department is entitled to a ruling on whether school districts involved in longstanding desegregation cases have achieved unitary status and should have orders against them dropped, a federal judge has held.
U.S. District Judge Wilbur D. Owens Jr., in a ruling handed down in January, rejected a motion from the naacp and nine Georgia districts to dismiss their cases while leaving intact orders barring them from discriminating in the future.
Last year, the Justice Department announced it would seek to close as many as 220 cases that it had originally filed against segregated districts. Federal officials argued that those that had met their constitutional obligations by mov4ing to end segregation should be freed from court supervision.
The naacp has contested the department’s action. The organization argues that, at a minimum, the existing court orders in the cases should be allowed to stand, so that there would continue to be safeguards for students in districts with a history of racial discrimination.
The Justice Department, on the other hand, argues that the court orders should be vacated if the districts are found to be unitary.
The nine districts are for the most part holding to the position that they cannot afford costly litigation to reopen divisive issues that have been settled for many years.
“The government has become the unasked for and seemingly unwanted surrogate for the defendant districts, a surrogate that in good faith and in an attempt to comply with this court’s directive has agreed to pay a large portion of the district’s costs,” Judge Owens wrote in his opinion.
But the department’s position in the cases “is riddled with inherent conflicts,” the judge said. Citing its enforcement responsibilities in desegregation cases, he cautioned that department officials should not proceed on the assumption that the districts have completely dismantled their segregated school systems.
The judge encouraged the department and the naacp to cooperate in a ''thorough investigation” of the districts’ status. He said the case would proceed when the inquiry is complete.--ws
A version of this article appeared in the February 01, 1989 edition of Education Week as U.S. Call for Desegregation Ruling Backed