Freeman v. Pitts

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503 U.S. 467 (1992), argued 7 October 1991, decided 31 March 1992 by vote of 8 to 0; Rehnquist for the Court, Scalia concurring, Souter concurring, Blackmun concurring in an opinion joined by Stevens and O’Connor, Thomas not participating. This case continued the line of cases following Brown v. Board of Educ. (II) (1955) governing court oversight of constitutionally mandated desegregation of public schools. Green v. Board of New Kent County (1968) elaborated the parameters of court analysis of whether a formerly de jure segregated school district has effectively desegregated, that is, achieved “unitary status,” and hence may be relieved of further obligations under a court-ordered remedial action plan. In Freeman, the Supreme Court considered whether a district court may relinquish supervision of a school district's efforts partially, declaring unitary status as to some aspects of a system's operations while withholding that finding as to other aspects. The DeKalb County School District had moved for final dismissal of pending desegregation litigation in light of its remedial efforts. The district court found that the district had become unitary with regard to four “Green factors”—student assignments, transportation, physical facilities, and extracurricular activities—but had not satisfactorily acted as to two important factors over which the district had virtually complete control: faculty assignments and resource allocation. Reversing the decision of the court of appeals, the justices agreed that a court may, where justified, order incremental or partial withdrawal of judicial supervision and control as to the areas of compliance, and retain supervision as to the areas of noncompliance.

Although Freeman sanctioned district courts’ consideration of whether black students continue to receive a poorer quality of education than whites—a factor not named by Green—the decision underscored the Court's growing commitment to the restoration of school systems to state and local authorities, a trend that has continued in subsequent desegregation litigation (for example, Belk v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Bd. of Educ., 2001; Missouri v. Jenkins, 1995).

Rhonda V. Magee Andrews

Subjects: Law.

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