Freeman v. Pitts
Annotate this Case
503 U.S. 467 (1992)
OCTOBER TERM, 1991
FREEMAN ET AL. v. PITTS ET AL.
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT
No. 89-1290. Argued October 7, 1991-Decided March 31, 1992
In a class action filed by respondents, black schoolchildren and their parents, the District Court, in 1969, entered a consent order approving a plan to dismantle the de jure segregation that had existed in the DeKalb County, Georgia, School System (DCSS). The court retained jurisdiction to oversee implementation of the plan. In 1986, petitioner DCSS officials filed a motion for final dismissal of the litigation, seeking a declaration that DCSS had achieved unitary status. Among other things, the court found that DCSS "has travelled the ... road to unitary status almost to its end," noted that it had "continually been impressed by [DCSS'] successes ... and its dedication to providing a quality education for all," and ruled that DCSS is a unitary system with regard to four of the six factors identified in Green v. School Ed. of New Kent County, 391 U. S. 430: student assignments, transportation, physical facilities, and extracurricular activities. In particular, the court found with respect to student assignments that DCSS had briefly achieved unitary status under the court-ordered plan, that subsequent and continuing racial imbalance in this category was a product of independent demographic changes that were unrelated to petitioners' actions and were not a vestige of the prior de jure system, and that actions taken by DCSS had achieved maximum practical desegregation from 1969 to 1986. Although ruling that it would order no further relief in the foregoing areas, the court refused to dismiss the case because it found that DCSS was not unitary with respect to the remaining Green factors: faculty assignments and resource allocation, the latter of which the court considered in connection with a non-Green factor, the quality of education being offered to the white and black student populations. The court ordered DCSS to take measures to address the remaining problems. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding, inter alia, that a district court should retain full remedial authority over a school system until it achieves unitary status in all Green categories at the same time for several years; that because, under this test, DCSS had never achieved unitary status, it could not shirk its constitutional duties by pointing to demographic shifts occurring prior to unitary status; and that DCSS would have to take further actions to correct the racial imbalance, even though such actions might be "administratively awkward,
inconvenient, and even bizarre in some situations," Swann v. CharlotteMecklenburg Bd. of Education, 402 U. S. 1,28.
1. In the course of supervising a desegregation plan, a district court has the authority to relinquish supervision and control of a school district in incremental stages, before full compliance has been achieved in every area of school operations, and may, while retaining jurisdiction over the case, determine that it will not order further remedies in areas where the school district is in compliance with the decree. Pp. 485-492.
(a) Green held that the duty of a former de jure district is to take all necessary steps to convert to a unitary system in which racial discrimination is eliminated, set forth factors that measure unitariness, and instructed the district courts to fashion remedies that address all these factors. Although the unitariness concept is helpful in defining the scope of the district court's authority, the term "unitary" does not have a fixed meaning or content and does not confine the court's discretion in a way that departs from traditional equitable principles. Under such principles, a court has the inherent capacity to adjust remedies in a feasible and practical way to correct the constitutional violation, Swann, supra, at 15-16, with the end purpose of restoring state and local authorities to the control of a school system that is operating in compliance, see, e. g., Milliken v. Bradley, 433 U. S. 267, 280-281. Where justified by the facts of the case, incremental or partial withdrawal of judicial supervision and control in areas of compliance, and retention of jurisdiction over the case with continuing supervision in areas of noncompliance, provides an orderly means for fulfilling this purpose. In particular, the court may determine that it will not order further remedies in the area of student assignments where racial imbalance is not traceable, in a proximate way, to constitutional violations. See Pasadena Bd. of Education v. Spangler, 427 U. S. 424, 436. pp. 485-491.
(b) Among the factors which must inform the court's discretion to order the incremental withdrawal of its supervision in an equitable manner are the following: whether there has been full and satisfactory compliance with the decree in those aspects of the system where supervision is to be withdrawn; whether retention of control is necessary or practicable to achieve compliance in other areas; and whether the school district has demonstrated, to the public and to the parents and students of the once disfavored race, its good-faith commitment to the whole of the decree and to those statutory and constitutional provisions that were the predicate for judicial intervention in the first instance. In considering these factors a court should give particular attention to the school system's record of compliance; i. e., whether its policies form a consistent