Keyes v. School District No. 1, Denver, Colorado

RESPONDENT: School District No. 1, Denver, Colorado
LOCATION: Board of Education, School District No. 1

DOCKET NO.: 71-507
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

CITATION: 413 US 189 (1973)
ARGUED: Oct 12, 1972
DECIDED: Jun 21, 1973

Gordon G. Greiner - Argued the cause for the petitioners
James M. Nabritt III - Argued the cause for the petitioners
William K. Ris - Argued the cause for the respondents

Facts of the case

Petitioners proved that for nearly ten years since 1960 the Denver, Colorado school system implemented an unconstitutional policy of racial discrimination by operating a segregated school system. The defense argued, and the District Court held, that even though one part of the Denver system was guilty of segregation, it did not follow that the entire system was segregated as well.


Did the segregation in Denver involve all of the city's schools and violate the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?

Media for Keyes v. School District No. 1, Denver, Colorado

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 12, 1972 in Keyes v. School District No. 1, Denver, Colorado

Warren E. Burger:

71-507, Keyes against the School District of Denver.

Mr. Nabrit, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

James M. Nabritt III:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

The Keyes case is here on writ of certiorari to review a judgment of the Tenth Circuit which in part affirmed and part reversed an order requiring limited desegregation measures in the public schools of Denver, Colorado.

Petitioner's submission is that -- is that the Denver system has violated the constitutional rights of Black and Hispano children to equal protection of the laws and that the courts below should have required a more comprehensive plan to desegregate the schools and otherwise eliminate discrimination.

Although the case comes from a State which had no statutory dual system, we see the case not as involving so-called “de facto segregation issues,” but rather as one with segregation practices of the kind the Court has been dealing with in the cases since Brown against the Board of Education.

And both courts below agreed with us but the Denver School's Board engaged in deliberate segregation practices in shams and subterfuges to use the words of the Tenth Circuit to segregate.

But the courts below failed, we think, to accord the full remedy to which the petitioners are entitled.

Potter Stewart:

Well the -- that the -- the courts below -- both of them, as I understand it, thought that so far as the core area of Denver went there was a de facto and not a de jury segregation.

James M. Nabritt III:

That -- that is --

Potter Stewart:

Am I mistaken about that?

James M. Nabritt III:

No, that is correct.

My task in the argument is to discuss the issues in part 1 of our brief, dealing with racial segregation, the issues you referred, Mr. Justice Stewart.

And Mr. Gordon Greiner will speak next, to discuss whether the operation of inferior schools for Black and Hispano children also violates the Equal Protection Clause that requires relief.

Potter Stewart:

Assuming no de jure segregation, is that correct, that -- that branch of the argument?

James M. Nabritt III:

We think that either ground, segregation or inequality, is sufficient to justify in order to desegregate the schools and argue also that both grounds together justify such a complete remedy.

After I briefly talk about the facts about the extensive nature of pupil and faculty segregation of the Denver schools, I shall argue with my first argument that if we draw only on the findings and conclusions of the district judge, which were affirmed on appeal, the findings, if you please, of de -- of de jure segregation, the term the courts below used, that Denver has a pattern, practice in policy of racial segregation of the schools, which affected a large and significant part of the school system, not just a few schools, not just an isolated or de minimis discrimination but a general pattern.

I will argue that because of violations found below were system-wide, the remedy should have been aimed at all of the segregated schools.

Warren E. Burger:

Mr. Nabrit, before you proceed further, I overlooked announcing that Mr. Justice Thurgood Marshall is unavoidably absent this morning, attending a family funeral and he reserves the right to participate in the case on the basis of all the records and arguments that are recorded.

James M. Nabritt III:

My second argument will be that the facts found below require a conclusion that illegal segregation was considerably more widespread in the -- in the system than the courts below have.

And that portion of the argument, I will concentrate on the Manual School as a case study to discuss the questions about the burden of proof of prima -- what constitutes a prima facie discrimination and the like, and also, because of the -- the real essential importance of Manual High School as the key stone of the segregated system, sitting atop a feeder pattern involving all the core elementary schools, 11 elementary schools with 3800 black pupils in 1968, feeding into the segregated high school.

William O. Douglas:

Does the record in this case show whether the composition of the School Board?

Was it biracial or --

James M. Nabritt III:

The School Board, during the relevant years, had one black member, Mrs. Noel.

She was the member who initiated the -- the three --

William O. Douglas:

What was the --

James M. Nabritt III:

-- desegregation resolutions in 1968.

William O. Douglas:

What was the size of the School Board?

How many members?

James M. Nabritt III:

The School Board was composed of seven elected members.