505 U.S. 717 (1992), argued 13 Nov. 1991, decided 26 June 1992 by unanimous vote; White for the Court, O’Connor and Thomas concurring, Scalia concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part.
The Supreme Court changed the face of public education with its decision in Brown v. Board of Education (1954) and its progeny. Brown I held that separate schools for different races were not equal and Brown II (1955) declared that public schools had an affirmative obligation to dismantle their de jure segregated system. While desegregation made slow but progressive strides at the elementary and secondary levels, the concept of “separate but equal” persisted at the university level. Mississippi's public university system was established in 1848 and the system remained exclusively for white students until 1871, when it opened a separate school to educate African-Americans. By the 1950s Mississippi had established five universities for white students and three universities for African-American students.
By the mid-1980s Mississippi's university system remained largely segregated. The university system claimed to have replaced its previous discriminatory practices with good-faith, race-neutral policies and procedures. Yet there was less then 1 percent of African-American students enrolled at Mississippi's historically white universities. A class action suit, filed against the governor of Mississippi and various other state agencies and officers, reached the Supreme Court. The justices ruled that the mere adoption of race-neutral policies did not satisfy the state's obligation to dismantle its prior dual system Analyzing the admission standards, program duplication, and operations of all eight public universities, the Court found that policies traceable to prior segregation continued to foster discriminatory effects.
The majority of the Court emphasized that the burden of proof was on the state to show that it had dismantled its prior segregated system. Justice Antonin Scalia, however, filed a dissenting opinion expressing his disagreement with placing theburden of proof standard on the state in the context of higher education.
Anna Lisa Garcia