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Pasadena Board of Education v. Spangler


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427 U.S. 424 (1976), argued 27–28 Apr. 1976, decided 28 June 1976 by vote of 6 to 2; Rehnquist for the Court, Marshall and Brennan in dissent, Stevens not participating. Whatever doubts remained after Milliken v. Bradley (1974) that the Supreme Court would exercise a more lenient overview of school desegregation remedies were put to rest two years later in Pasadena Board of Education v. Spangler. Under a 1970 school desegregation plan, the trial court ordered that pupil assignments guarantee that no school in the district have a majority of minority students. Within four years, five schools were in violation of that provision of the plan. The trial court held that the system was not yet desegregated and that annual reassignments to avoid the prohibited outcome were necessary.

The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that annual reassignments exceeded the district court's authority and emphasizing that the changes in racial proportions were not chargeable to intentional segregative actions by the district. Quoting Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg (1971), the Court found no constitutional requirement to make annual adjustments “once the affirmative duty to desegregate had been accomplished and racial discrimination through official action [has been] eliminated from the system” (p. 425).

The issue was narrow, but, as Justice Thurgood Marshall's dissent indicated, prior to Milliken one might have expected that the district court's ruling would have been sustained as an exercise of sound Swann-like discretion.

Dennis J. Hutchinson

Subjects: Law.


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