Milliken v. Bradley

LOCATION: Detroit Public Schools

DOCKET NO.: 73-434
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

CITATION: 418 US 717 (1974)
ARGUED: Feb 27, 1974
DECIDED: Jul 25, 1974

Frank J. Kelley - Argued the cause for the petitioners in No. 73-434
J. Harold Flannery - Argued the cause for the respondents in all cases
Nathaniel R. Jones - Argued the cause for the respondents in all cases
Robert H. Bork - Argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging reversal
William M. Saxton - Argued the cause for the petitioners in Nos. 73-435 and 73-436

Facts of the case

A suit charging that the Detroit, Michigan public school system was racially segregated as a result of official policies was filed against Governor Milliken. After reviewing the case and concluding the system was segregated, a district court ordered the adoption of a desegregation plan that encompassed eighty-five outlying school districts. The lower court found that Detroit-only plans were inadequate. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the metropolitan plan. This case was decided together with Allen Park Public Schools v. Bradley and Grosse Point Public School System v. Bradley.


Did federal courts have the authority to impose a multi-district desegregation plan on schools outside the Detroit area?

Media for Milliken v. Bradley

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 27, 1974 (Part 1) in Milliken v. Bradley
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 27, 1974 (Part 2) in Milliken v. Bradley

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - July 25, 1974 in Milliken v. Bradley

Warren E. Burger:

I have the disposition to announce for the Court in number 73-434, Milliken against Bradley, along with 73-435 and 436, Allen Park Public Schools against Bradley and Grosse Pointe Public School System against Bradley.

The respondents in these cases brought this class action alleging that the Detroit public school system was racially segregated as a result of the official policies and the actions of petitioner state and city officials.

They sought implementation of a plan to eliminate the segregation in Detroit and establish a unitary nonracial school system in that city.

The District Court concluded, that various acts by the petitioner, the Detroit School Board of Education had created and perpetuated school segregation in Detroit.

When the District Court turns the question of an appropriate remedy for Detroit segregation that it had found, it proceeded to order the Detroit Board of Education to submit plans dealing with the segregation problems found to exist in that city which of course was what the lawsuit was all about.

At the same time, however, the state defendants were directed by the District Court to submit desegregation plans that would include the three-county metropolitan area, covering a total of 1952 square miles.

Despite the fact that the school districts of these three counties were not parties to the action and despite that there had been no claim up to that time made by anyone that these outlying counties that included 85 separate school districts had committed have committed any constitutional violations of any kind.

The outlying school districts through them allowed to intervene, by the express terms of the order of the District Court, they were not permitted to assert any claim or defense on issues previously decided or to reopen any issue previously decided.

They were allowed simply to advise the court as to the propriety of a metropolitan plan and to submit any modifications or alternatives to such plan.

Without taking any evidence on the subject, the District Court then ruled that it was proper to consider metropolitan plans, including 53 of the 80 odd outlying school districts.

And within a few days after that the Judge filed his decision, holding that it was proper for the Court to consider consider metropolitan plans directed towards desegregation of the Detroit Public Schools as an alternative to the Detroit only plans, which were then before the court.

The District Court then issued its findings and conclusions on the three alternative Detroit-only plans submitted by the City School Boards and some by the respondents and found that the best of these three, as the Court viewed one to be the best, would make the Detroit system identifiably Negro, thereby and I used the terms of the District Judge now, thereby increasing the flight of Whites from the city and from the system.

From this, the District Court concluded that the Detroit only plan would not accomplish desegregation within the corporate, geographical limits of the city of Detroit.

Accordingly, the District Court held that it was required to look beyond the limits of the Detroit school district for solution to the problem as it saw the problem and here I use his words again, because school district lines are simply matters of political convenience and may not be used to deny constitutional rights.

The District Court then issued its ruling on the desegregation area and the related findings and conclusions.

The District Judge acknowledged at the outset that he had taken no evidence with respect to the establishment of the boundaries of the 85 school districts surrounding or at least near Detroit itself.

Nor had he taken any evidence on the issue of whether these outlying school districts had committed any acts of de jure segregation.

Nevertheless, the District Court then carved out 53 of the 85 suburban school districts plus Detroit and held that this was to become the metropolitan desegregation area.

The District Court then appointed a panel to prepare and submit what he described as an effective desegregation plan, for the Detroit schools that would include the entire desegregation area with the total of 53 school districts.

The Court ordered the Detroit Board of Education to purchase or otherwise acquire at least 295 school buses for the purpose of providing the necessary transportation under an interim plan that was to be developed immediately or partly at least for the 1972-1973 school year.

The costs of this acquisition of these 295 or more buses was to be borne by the state.

When the case went to the Court of Appeals that Court affirmed in part and held that the that the record supported the District Court's findings as to the constitutional violations committed by the Detroit Board and the State officials.

That therefore the District Court was authorized and permitted to take the effective measures to desegregate the Detroit school system and that a metropolitan area's plan embracing the 53 outlying school districts was the only feasible solution and was within the District Court's equity powers.

With the Court having thus decided the case or at least these issues, remanded to the District Court so that all suburban school districts that might be affected by a metropolitan remedy could be made parties to the lawsuit and have an opportunity to be heard as to the scope and implementation of the remedy.

It vacated the order as to the acquisitions of additional buses, subject to this being reimposed at an appropriate later time, when and if that become necessary.

However, it is clear that the case was decided before these 53 districts were given any chance to show, that they had committed no violation of anyone's constitutional rights.

We granted certiorari to determine whether a federal court may impose a multidistrict, or interdistrict areawide remedy to cure the segregation of one district and to do so, without any finding that the other included school districts failed to operate a totally unitary system within their districts, without any claim or finding that the boundary lines of any affected school districts were established with the purpose of fostering racial segregation in the public schools, without any finding that the included districts had committed acts which effected segregation within the other districts, and without any meaningful opportunity for the included neighboring outlying school districts to present evidence or be heard on the propriety of a multidistrict remedy or on the question of constitutional violations by those neighboring districts affecting the primary district.

Ever since Brown against the Board of Education, 20 years ago, judicial consideration of school desegregation cases has begin with the standard stated in that case, but in the field of public education the doctrine of separate but equal' has no place.

Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal and this has been reaffirmed in this Court time and again as the meaning of the Constitution and the controlling rule of law.

The target of the Brown holding was clear and forthright.