Crawford v. Los Angeles Board of Educ.
458 U.S. 527 (1982)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Crawford v. Los Angeles Board of Educ., 458 U.S. 527 (1982)

Crawford v. Board of Education of City of Los Angeles

No. 81-38

Argued March 22, 1982

Decided June 30, 1982

458 U.S. 527

CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEAL OF CALIFORNIA,

SECOND APPELLATE DISTRICT

Syllabus

In a California state court action seeking desegregation of the schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District (District), the trial court, in 1970, found de jure segregation in violation of both the State and Federal Constitutions and ordered the District to prepare a desegregation plan. The California Supreme Court affirmed, but based its decision solely upon the Equal Protection Clause of the State Constitution, which bars de facto as well as de jure segregation. On remand, the trial court approved a desegregation plan that included substantial mandatory pupil reassignment and busing. While the trial court was considering alternative new plans in 1979, the voters of California ratified an amendment (Proposition I) to the State Constitution which provides that state courts shall not order mandatory pupil assignment or transportation unless a federal court "would be permitted under federal decisional law" to do so to remedy a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution. The trial court denied the District's request to halt all mandatory reassignment and busing, holding that Proposition I was not applicable in light of the court's 1970 finding of de jure segregation in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. The court then ordered implementation of a revised plan that again included substantial mandatory pupil reassignment and busing. The California Court of Appeal reversed, concluding that the trial court's 1970 findings of fact would not support the conclusion that the District had violated the Federal Constitution through intentional segregation. The Court of Appeal also held that Proposition I was constitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment, and barred that part of the plan requiring mandatory student reassignment and busing.

Held: Proposition I does not violate the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 458 U. S. 535-545.

(a) This Court's decisions will not support the contention that, once a State chooses to do "more" than the Fourteenth Amendment requires, it may never recede. Such an interpretation of that Amendment would be destructive of a State's democratic processes and of its ability to experiment in dealing with the problems of a heterogeneous population. Proposition I does not embody, expressly or implicitly, a racial classification.

Page 458 U. S. 528

The simple repeal or modification of desegregation or antidiscrimination laws, without more, does not embody a presumptively invalid racial classification. Pp. 458 U. S. 535-540.

(b) Proposition I cannot be characterized as something more than a mere repeal. Hunter v. Erickson,393 U. S. 385, distinguished. The State Constitution still places upon school boards a greater duty to desegregate than does the Fourteenth Amendment. Nor does Proposition I allocate governmental or judicial power on the basis of a discriminatory principle. A "dual court system" -- one for the racial majority and one for the racial minority -- is not established simply because civil rights remedies are different from those available in other areas. It was constitutional for the people of the State to determine that the Fourteenth Amendment's standard was more appropriate for California courts to apply in desegregation cases than the standard repealed by Proposition I. Pp. 458 U. S. 540-542.

(c) Even if it could be assumed that Proposition I had a disproportionate adverse effect on racial minorities, there is no reason to differ with the state appellate court's conclusion that Proposition I in fact was not enacted with a discriminatory purpose. The purposes of the Proposition -- chief among them the educational benefits of neighborhood schooling -- are legitimate, nondiscriminatory objectives, and the state court characterized the claim of discriminatory intent on the part of millions of voters as but "pure speculation." Pp. 458 U. S. 543-545.

113 Cal.App.3d 633, 170 Cal.Rptr. 495, affirmed.

POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, WHITE, BLACKMUN, REHNQUIST, STEVENS, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined,post, p. 458 U. S. 545. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion,post, p. 458 U. S. 547.

Page 458 U. S. 529

JUSTICE POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.

An amendment to the California Constitution provides that state courts shall not order mandatory pupil assignment or transportation unless a federal court would do so to remedy a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The question for our decision is whether this provision is itself in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

I

This litigation began almost 20 years ago, in 1963, when minority students attending school in the Los Angeles Unified School District (District) filed a class action in state court

Page 458 U. S. 530

seeking desegregation of the District's schools. [Footnote 1] The case went to trial some five years later, and, in 1970, the trial court issued an opinion finding that the District was substantially segregated in violation of the State and Federal Constitutions. The court ordered the District to prepare a desegregation plan for immediate use. App. 139.

On the District's appeal, the California Supreme Court affirmed, but on a different basis. Crawford v. Board of Education, 17 Cal.3d 280, 551 P.2d 28 (1976). While the trial court had found de jure segregation in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, see App. 117, 120-121, the California Supreme Court based its affirmance solely upon the Equal Protection Clause of the State Constitution. [Footnote 2] The court explained that, under the California Constitution,

"state school boards . . . bear a constitutional obligation to take reasonable steps to alleviate segregation in the public schools, whether the segregation be

Page 458 U. S. 531

de facto or de jure in origin."

17 Cal.3d at 290, 551 P.2d at 34. The court remanded to the trial court for preparation of a "reasonably feasible" plan for school desegregation. Id. at 310, 551 P.2d at 48. [Footnote 3]

On remand, the trial court rejected the District's mostly voluntary desegregation plan, but ultimately approved a second plan that included substantial mandatory school reassignment and transportation -- "busing" -- on a racial and ethnic basis. [Footnote 4] The plan was put into effect in the fall of 1978, but, after one year's experience, all parties to the litigation were dissatisfied. See 113 Cal.App.3d 633, 636, 170 Cal.Rptr. 495, 497 (1981). Although the plan continued in operation, the trial court began considering alternatives in October, 1979.

In November, 1979, the voters of the State of California ratified Proposition I, an amendment to the Due Process and

Page 458 U. S. 532

Equal Protection Clauses of the State Constitution. [Footnote 5] Proposition I conforms the power of state courts to order busing to that exercised by the federal courts under the Fourteenth Amendment:

"[N]o court of this state may impose upon the State of California or any public entity, board, or official any obligation or responsibility with respect to the use of pupil school assignment or pupil transportation, (1) except to remedy a specific violation by such party that would also constitute a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution, and (2) unless a federal court would be permitted under federal decisional law to impose that obligation or responsibility upon such party to remedy the specific violation of the Equal Protection Clause. . . . [Footnote 6] "

Page 458 U. S. 533

Following approval of Proposition I, the District asked the Superior Court to halt all mandatory reassignment and busing of pupils. App. 185. On May 19, 1980, the court denied the District's application. The court reasoned that Proposition I was of no effect in this case in light of the court's 1970 finding of de jure segregation by the District in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Shortly thereafter, the court ordered implementation of a revised desegregation plan, one that again substantially relied upon mandatory pupil reassignment and transportation. [Footnote 7]

The California Court of Appeal reversed. 113 Cal.App.3d 633, 170 Cal.Rptr. 495 (1981). The court found that the trial court's 1970 findings of fact would not support the conclusion that the District had violated the Federal Constitution through intentional segregation. [Footnote 8] Thus, Proposition I

Page 458 U. S. 534

was applicable to the trial court's desegregation plan and would bar that part of the plan requiring mandatory student reassignment and transportation. Moreover, the court concluded that Proposition I was constitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment. Id. at 654, 170 Cal.Rptr. at 509. The court found no obligation on the part of the State to retain a greater remedy at state law against racial segregation than was provided by the Federal Constitution. Ibid. The court rejected the claim that Proposition I was adopted with a discriminatory purpose. Id. at 654-655, 170 Cal.Rptr. at 509. [Footnote 9]

Determining Proposition I to be applicable and constitutional, the Court of Appeal vacated the orders entered by the Superior Court. The California Supreme Court denied hearing. App. to Pet. for Cert. 73a. [Footnote 10] We granted certiorari. 454 U.S. 892 (1981).

Page 458 U. S. 535

II

We agree with the California Court of Appeal in rejecting the contention that, once a State chooses to do "more" than the Fourteenth Amendment requires, it may never recede. [Footnote 11] We reject an interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment so destructive of a State's democratic processes and of its ability to experiment. This interpretation has no support in the decisions of this Court.

Proposition I does not inhibit enforcement of any federal law or constitutional requirement. Quite the contrary, by its plain language, the Proposition seeks only to embrace the requirements of the Federal Constitution with respect to mandatory school assignments and transportation. It would be paradoxical to conclude that, by adopting the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the voters of the State thereby had violated it. Moreover, even after Proposition I, the California Constitution still imposes a greater duty of desegregation than does the Federal Constitution. The state courts of California continue to have an obligation under state law to order segregated school districts to use voluntary desegregation techniques, whether or not there has been a finding of intentional segregation. The school districts themselves retain a state law obligation to

Page 458 U. S. 536

take reasonably feasible steps to desegregate, and they remain free to adopt reassignment and busing plans to effectuate desegregation. [Footnote 12]

Nonetheless, petitioners contend that Proposition I is unconstitutional on its face. They argue that Proposition I employs an "explicit racial classification" and imposes a "race-specific" burden on minorities seeking to vindicate state-created rights. By limiting the power of state courts to enforce the state-created right to desegregated schools, petitioners contend, Proposition I creates a "dual court system" that discriminates on the basis of race. [Footnote 13] They emphasize that other state-created rights may be vindicated by the state courts without limitation on remedies. Petitioners argue that the "dual court system" created by Proposition I is unconstitutional unless supported by a compelling state interest.

We would agree that, if Proposition I employed a racial classification, it would be unconstitutional unless necessary to further a compelling state interest.

"A racial classification, regardless of purported motivation, is presumptively invalid

Page 458 U. S. 537

and can be upheld only upon an extraordinary justification."

Personnel Administrator of Massachusetts v. Feeney,442 U. S. 256, 442 U. S. 272 (1979). See McLaughlin v. Florida,379 U. S. 184, 379 U. S. 196 (1964). But Proposition I does not embody a racial classification. [Footnote 14] It neither says nor implies that persons are to be treated differently on account of their race. It simply forbids state courts to order pupil school assignment or transportation in the absence of a Fourteenth Amendment violation. The benefit it seeks to confer -- neighborhood schooling -- is made available regardless of race in the discretion of school boards. [Footnote 15] Indeed, even if Proposition I had a racially discriminatory effect, in view of the demographic mix of the District, it is not.clear which race or races would be affected the most, or in what way. [Footnote 16] In addition, this Court previously has held that, even when a neutral law has a disproportionately

Page 458 U. S. 538

adverse effect on a racial minority, the Fourteenth Amendment is violated only if a discriminatory purpose can be shown. [Footnote 17]

Similarly, the Court has recognized that a distinction may exist between state action that discriminates on the basis of race and state action that addresses, in neutral fashion, race-related matters. [Footnote 18] This distinction is implicit in the Court's repeated statement that the Equal Protection Clause is not violated by the mere repeal of race-related legislation or policies that were not required by the Federal Constitution in the first place. In Dayton Bd. of Education v. Brinkman,433 U. S. 406, 433 U. S. 414 (1977), we found that the school board's mere repudiation of an earlier resolution calling for desegregation did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment. [Footnote 19] In Reitman v. Mulkey,387 U. S. 369, 387 U. S. 376 (1967), and again in Hunter v. Erickson,393 U. S. 385, 393 U. S. 390, n. 5 (1969), we were careful to note that the laws under review did more than "mere[ly] repeal" existing antidiscrimination legislation. [Footnote 20]

Page 458 U. S. 539

In sum, the simple repeal or modification of desegregation or antidiscrimination laws, without more, never has been viewed as embodying a presumptively invalid racial classification. [Footnote 21]

Were we to hold that the mere repeal of race-related legislation is unconstitutional, we would limit seriously the authority of States to deal with the problems of our heterogeneous population. States would be committed irrevocably to legislation that has proved unsuccessful, or even harmful, in practice. And certainly the purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment would not be advanced by an interpretation that discouraged the States from providing greater protection to racial minorities. [Footnote 22] Nor would the purposes of the Amendment be furthered by requiring the States to maintain legislation designed to ameliorate race relations or to protect racial minorities, but which has produced just the opposite effects. [Footnote 23] Yet these would be the results of requiring a State

Page 458 U. S. 540

to maintain legislation that has proved unworkable or harmful when the State was under no obligation to adopt the legislation in the first place. Moreover, and relevant to this case, we would not interpret the Fourteenth Amendment to require the people of a State to adhere to a judicial construction of their State Constitution when that Constitution itself vests final authority in the people.

III

Petitioners seek to avoid the force of the foregoing considerations by arguing that Proposition I is not a "mere repeal." Relying primarily on the decision in Hunter v. Erickson, supra, they contend that Proposition I does not simply repeal a state-created right, but fundamentally alters the judicial system so that "those seeking redress from racial isolation in violation of state law must be satisfied with less than full relief from a state court." [Footnote 24] We do not view Hunter as controlling here, nor are we persuaded by petitioners' characterization of Proposition I as something more than a mere repeal.

In Hunter, the Akron city charter had been amended by the voters to provide that no ordinance regulating real estate on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin could take effect until approved by a referendum. As a result of the charter amendment, a fair housing ordinance, adopted by the City Council at an earlier date, was no longer effective. In holding the charter amendment invalid under the Fourteenth Amendment, the Court held that the charter amendment was not a simple repeal of the fair housing ordinance. The

Page 458 U. S. 541

amendment

"not only suspended the operation of the existing ordinance forbidding housing discrimination, but also required the approval of the electors before any future [antidiscrimination] ordinance could take effect."

393 U.S. at 393 U. S. 389-390. Thus, whereas most ordinances regulating real property would take effect once enacted by the City Council, ordinances prohibiting racial discrimination in housing would be forced to clear an additional hurdle. [Footnote 25] As such, the charter amendment placed an impermissible, "special burde[n] on racial minorities within the governmental process." Id. at 393 U. S. 391. [Footnote 26]

Hunter involved more than a "mere repeal" of the fair housing ordinance; persons seeking antidiscrimination housing laws -- presumptively racial minorities -- were "singled out for mandatory referendums, while no other group . . . face[d] that obstacle." James v. Valtierra,402 U. S. 137, 402 U. S. 142 (1971). By contrast, even on the assumption that racial minorities benefited from the busing required by state law, Proposition I is less than a "repeal" of the California Equal Protection Clause. As noted above, after Proposition I, the State Constitution still places upon school boards a greater duty to desegregate than does the Fourteenth Amendment.

Nor can it be said that Proposition I distorts the political process for racial reasons, or that it allocates governmental or judicial power on the basis of a discriminatory principle.

"The Constitution does not require things which are different in fact or opinion to be treated in law as though they were the

Page 458 U. S. 542

same."

Tigner v. Texas,310 U. S. 141, 310 U. S. 147 (1940). Remedies appropriate in one area of legislation may not be desirable in another. The remedies available for violation of the antitrust laws, for example, are different than those available for violation of the Civil Rights Acts. Yet a "dual court system" -- one for the racial majority and one for the racial minority -- is not established simply because civil rights remedies are different from those available in other areas. [Footnote 27] Surely it was constitutional for the California Supreme Court to caution that, although, "in some circumstances, busing will be an appropriate and useful element in a desegregation plan," in other circumstances, "its costs,' both in financial and educational terms, will render its use inadvisable." Seen 3, supra. It was equally constitutional for the people of the State to determine that the standard of the Fourteenth Amendment was more appropriate for California courts to apply in desegregation cases than the standard repealed by Proposition I. [Footnote 28]

In short, having gone beyond the requirements of the Federal Constitution, the State was free to return in part to the standard prevailing generally throughout the United States. It could have conformed its law to the Federal Constitution in every respect. That it chose to pull back only in part, and by preserving a greater right to desegregation than exists under the Federal Constitution, most assuredly does not render the Proposition unconstitutional on its face.

Page 458 U. S. 543

IV

The California Court of Appeal also rejected petitioners' claim that Proposition I, if facially valid, was nonetheless unconstitutional because enacted with a discriminatory purpose. The court reasoned that the purposes of the Proposition were well stated in the Proposition itself. [Footnote 29] Voters may have been motivated by any of these purposes, chief among them the educational benefits of neighborhood schooling. The court found that voters also may have considered that the extent of mandatory busing, authorized by state law, actually was aggravating, rather than ameliorating, the desegregation problem. Seen 1, supra. It characterized petitioners' claim of discriminatory intent on the part of millions of voters as but "pure speculation." 113 Cal.App.3d at 655, 170 Cal.Rptr. at 509.

In Reitman v. Mulkey,387 U. S. 369 (1967), the Court considered the constitutionality of another California Proposition. In that case, the California Supreme Court had concluded that the Proposition was unconstitutional because it gave the State's approval to private racial discrimination. This Court agreed, deferring to the findings made by the California court. The Court noted that the California court was "armed . . . with the knowledge of the facts and circumstances concerning the passage and potential impact" of the Proposition, and "familiar with the milieu in which that provision would operate." Id. at 387 U. S. 378. Similarly, in this case,

Page 458 U. S. 544

again involving the circumstances of passage and the potential impact of a Proposition adopted at a statewide election, we see no reason to differ with the conclusions of the state appellate court. [Footnote 30]

Under decisions of this Court, a law neutral on its face still may be unconstitutional if motivated by a discriminatory purpose. In determining whether such a purpose was the motivating factor, the racially disproportionate effect of official action provides "an important starting point.'" Personnel Administrator of Massachusetts v. Feeney, 442 U.S. at 442 U. S. 274, quoting Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan Housing Dev. Corp.,429 U. S. 252, 429 U. S. 266 (1977).

Proposition I in no way purports to limit the power of state courts to remedy the effects of intentional segregation with its accompanying stigma. The benefits of neighborhood schooling are racially neutral. This manifestly is true in Los Angeles, where over 75% of the public school body is composed of groups viewed as racial minorities. See nn. 1 and | 1 and S. 527fn16|>16, supra. Moreover, the Proposition simply removes one means of achieving the state-created right to desegregated education. School districts retain the obligation to alleviate segregation regardless of cause. And the state courts still may order desegregation measures other than pupil school assignment or pupil transportation. [Footnote 31]

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