Equity & Diversity

Court Declines to Consider Ala. Desegregation Appeal

By Mark Walsh — October 23, 2002 2 min read
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The U.S. Supreme Court declined last week to revive an effort by an original plaintiff in an Alabama desegregation case to intercede in recent court proceedings.

The justices on Oct. 15 refused the appeal of Della Sullins, who joined with other black parents in 1963 in suing the Macon County school board over segregation. The case was later expanded to include the state and several other segregated school systems in Alabama.

One of those was the Anniston city school district, which in 2001 filed a motion before a federal district court seeking permission under the long-running desegregation consent decree to close an elementary school. The district court heard testimony from local opponents of closing Norwood Elementary School in Anniston, but granted the 2,740-student school district’s request to close the school.

Ms. Sullins sought to intervene by filing an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, in Atlanta. The Anniston school board filed a motion arguing that she did not have legal standing to intercede in the case. In February, a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit court issued a one-sentence order granting the board’s motion. It did not issue an opinion.

In her appeal to the Supreme Court in Sullins v. Lee (Case No. 02-174), Ms. Sullins said she was seeking to intervene because the representation of black schoolchildren in the 39-year-old case by a law firm that has been involved in the case from the start was “no longer fair or effective.”

Her appeal argued that the firm, Gray, Langford, Sapp, McGowan, Gray & Nathanson of Montgomery, Ala., was taking a “monolithic” approach to representing black schoolchildren in the case. The appeal said the courts needed the opinions of other parents and community groups during reviews of changes such as school closures under the desegregation decree.

Neither the school district nor the law firm representing black children filed a response to Ms. Sullins’ Supreme Court appeal, which the high court declined without comment.

Idaho Loans

Separately last week, the justices declined to hear an appeal by the Student Loan Fund of Idaho in a dispute with the U.S. Department of Education over the Federal Family Education Loan Program, formerly the Guaranteed Student Loan Program.

The case involves a disagreement that began in 1994, when the Idaho agency, which guaranteed federal student loans in that state, stopped backing new loans. The Education Department demanded that the agency shift its loan portfolio to a guarantee agency in Washington state, but the Idaho agency refused.

Then-Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley said the Education Department would stop reimbursing the agency for defaulted loans. A federal district court ruled in 1999 that the Idaho agency had a contractual right to keep its student-loan portfolio.

But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, in San Francisco, ruled unanimously last December that once the Idaho agency dropped its status as a guarantor of new federal student loans, it lost its right to keep its loan portfolio and receive default reimbursements from the government.

The Supreme Court refused without comment to hear the appeal by the loan agency in Student Loan Fund of Idaho v. Department of Education (No. 02-73).

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