Columbus Board of Education v. Penick

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443 U.S. 449 (1979), argued 24 Apr. 1979, decided 2 July 1979 by vote of 7 to 2; White for the Court, Burger and Stewart concurring, Powell and Rehnquist in dissent. Notwithstanding the intervening decisions of Milliken v. Bradley (1974) and Pasadena City Board of Education v. Spangler (1976), which cast doubt on the Court's continuing desire to uphold large urban school desegregation plans, the Court reaffirmed the basic principles of Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg (1971) and Keyes v. Denver School District No. 1 (1973). It reiterated that proof of purposeful segregation in a substantial portion of an urban school district created a strong presumption that the school board had practiced systemwide segregative intent and had tolerated systemwide segregative effects—or both—thus warranting wholesale district-wide relief. Contrary evidence of the board's objectives was viewed with skepticism. Even where current racial imbalance in the schools could be shown to have been caused by innocent behavior on the part of the board, as long as the system was infected with segregative intent when Brown v. Board of Education (1954) was decided, the school board remained liable to dismantle the dual system if it had not taken substantial steps since then to do so.

Justice Lewis Powell reiterated the view he expressed in Keyes that the de facto/de jure distinction made no sense. Justice William Rehnquist filed a lengthy dissent complaining of the Court's unwarranted intrusion into local education policy making and, in effect, of the Court's entire post—Green v. County School Board of New Kent County (1968) case law. In Missouri v. Jenkins (1995) Rehnquist carried a 5-to-4 majority in holding that the lower federal courts in Missouri had improperly ordered the state to help pay for a showcase desegregation plan for Kansas City schools.

Dennis J. Hutchinson

Subjects: Law.

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