Case: Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg County Board of Education

3:65-cv-01974 | U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina

Filed Date: Jan. 19, 1965

Closed Date: April 15, 2002

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Case Summary

This summary seeks to describe how the Swann litigation influenced the desegregation of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS). For a more thorough analysis of this litigation and policy challenge through the present day, see Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow: School Desegregation and Resegregation in Charlotte (Roslyn Arlin Mickelson, et al. eds. 2015). For a complete discussion of the Supreme Court’s decision in Swann, see Bernard Schwartz, Swann's Way: The School Busing Case and the Supreme Court …

This summary seeks to describe how the Swann litigation influenced the desegregation of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS). For a more thorough analysis of this litigation and policy challenge through the present day, see Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow: School Desegregation and Resegregation in Charlotte (Roslyn Arlin Mickelson, et al. eds. 2015). For a complete discussion of the Supreme Court’s decision in Swann, see Bernard Schwartz, Swann's Way: The School Busing Case and the Supreme Court (1986).

On January 1, 1965, several Black schoolchildren filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina against the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The plaintiffs, represented by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, asked the court for an injunction barring schools from allocating educational opportunities based on race. Specifically, the plaintiff claimed that the assignment of Black children into Black schools was the result of school board policies.

In March 1965, the CMS Board of Education (the Board) proposed a plan to comply with the Supreme Court’s requirements of Brown. On April 11, the Board approved a plan that would primarily eliminate race as a factor in the employment and assignment of all staff. Plaintiffs in this case argued the plan failed to meet the requirements of Brown by allowing school zones to be gerrymandered to prevent the mixing of races in schools, exempting 10 schools without a legitimate reason, and taking effect in the distant future rather than immediately.

At trial in the Western District of North Carolina, parties focused on the gerrymandering issue. Out of 75,000 students in the district, of which 23,000 were black and 52,000 were white, roughly 2,000 black students would be assigned to students largely populated by white students. In 99 out of 109 schools in the district, children were assigned according to their place of residence in a geographical zone, and all children were allowed to transfer to another zone for any reason.

Judge Craven found that it was reasonable to provide a maximum delay for excepted schools given the complexity of the zoning problem and that there was no evidence the gerrymandering was done for the purpose of preventing mixtures of Black and white students. He therefore approved the Board’s proposed plan, although required that it be done “immediately” rather than “ultimately.” Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Bd. of Ed., 243 F. Supp. 667 (W.D.N.C. 1965).

Plaintiffs appealed to the Fourth Circuit. The court rejected plaintiffs’ argument that zone lines should be drawn with the purpose of eliminating as many single-race schools as possible, concluding there is no constitutional requirement that school boards achieve the maximum mixture of races. In drawing school zone boundaries, the court declared that a Board may consider natural geographic boundaries, accessibility of particular schools, and other factors not related to race. Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Bd. of Ed., 369 F.2d 29 (4th Cir. 1966).

Plaintiffs then filed a motion for further relief in the district court. Judge McMillan ruled that CMS’s desegregation was not proceeding in accordance with constitutional requirements. Resisting the Fourth Circuit’s opinion, the court declared that the “system of assigning pupils by ‘neighborhood,’ with ‘freedom of choice’ for both pupils and faculty, superimposed on an urban population pattern where Black residents have become concentrated almost entirely in one quadrant of a city of 270,000, is racially discriminatory.” The Board was required to submit a new plan by May 15, 1969 that would effectuate faculty desegregation by Fall 1969 and that would be “predominantly effective” in desegregating student bodies by the same time, to be completed by Fall 1970. Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Bd. of Ed., 300 F. Supp. 1358 (W.D.N.C. 1969).

After some delay, the Board submitted a new proposal, but the district court determined the plan was insufficient in achieving the desegregation of both student and faculty assignment, as well as in the school site selection and construction plans. The new plan, according to Judge McMillan, merely provided transportation for those seeking majority-to-minority transfers, and while that provision was approved, the remainder of the pupil assignment plan was rejected. The court specifically rejected a policy that would make athletes ineligible for participation until the next school year, finding that rule racially discriminatory. A new plan was to be submitted by September 4, 1969. Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Bd. of Ed., 300 F. Supp. 1381 (W.D.N.C. 1969).

After a revised plan was submitted to the court, it was approved for the 1969-1970 year only. It called for the closing of seven all-black schools and the assignment of their 3000 students to predominantly white schools scattered throughout the city. The plan would keep open one inner-city predominantly black school for students who did not with to be bused to predominantly white schools on the outskirts of the city. By the 1970-71 term, the plan intended for all schools in the system to have approximately the same proportion of white and black teachers, and included “compensatory education” programs for students. On the issue of student body desegregation, court warned against attempts to create a magnet school to attract black children away from desegregated assignments. The Board was forbidden from providing bus transportation to the allowed inner city school and from planning programs for black students there that were not offered to black students at integrated schools.

On December 2, 1969, the court appointed Dr. John Finger of Rhode Island to advise the court on how it could be desegregated. Both Finger and the Board proposed plans to the court on February 2 and 5, 1970. The Board plan left some schools segregated, while the Finger plan desegregated all schools. The court felt, given the Supreme Court’s recent decisions relating to Atlanta, Miami, and Chicago public schools, that a delay until September could not be justified. On February 5, Judge McMillan thus ordered significant steps in the integration of all CMS schools by May of that school year. Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Bd. of Ed., 311 F. Supp. 265 (W.D.N.C. 1970).

But on March 5, 1970, the Fourth Circuit issued a stay. In a May 26 decision on the merits, the court upheld the aspects of the order related to faculty, but vacated the decision on the grounds that the zoning plan for elementary schools and transportation for junior and senior high schools imposed undue burdens on those students. In reaching its decision the court insisted that reasonableness, not “absolutes,” were to guide desegregation efforts. And while the court was concerned with the burden posed by the busing plan, it asserted that their opinion “should not be interpreted to prohibit all busing.” Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Bd. of Ed., 431 F.2d 138 (4th Cir. 1970).

On June 29, 1970, the Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari as long as the case was remanded to the district court for further proceedings and that the district court's previous judgment was reinstated pending those judgments. 399 U.S. 926 (1970). On remand, Judge McMillan held hearings during July 1970 and issued a new order on August 3. In reviewing the Board’s proposed plan, the court found the Board had not obeyed the Court of Appeals’ order to use “all reasonable means” to desegregate elementary schools, and that only the February 5 plan would suffice. Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Bd. of Ed., 318 F. Supp. 786 (W.D.N.C. 1970).

The Board next requested that the Fourth Circuit stay the district court's order, pending a decision of the Supreme Court. But on August 17, Judge Haynsworth declined to issue a stay, finding the Supreme Court had not authorized Courts of Appeals to review subsequent orders of the District Courts.

On April 20, 1971, a unanimous United States Supreme Court upheld the desegregation plan as ordered by the district court. All parties agreed that the school system failed to achieve the "unitary" school system required by the Equal Protection Clause. The district court stated that efforts should be made to reach a 71 percent White to 29 percent Black ratio in the schools, which reflected the system's student population. The final board plan left 10 schools 86 percent to 100 percent Black and yet categorically rejected the techniques of pairing and clustering. The Court held that where the proposed plan contemplated the continued existence of some schools that are all or predominately of one race, such schools should be scrutinized, and the school authorities had the burden of showing that such racial composition was not the result of present or past discriminatory practices. The plan adopted by the district court used zoning, pairing, and grouping techniques in the elementary schools so that schools throughout the system would be from nine percent to 38 percent Black. The Court upheld the district court's flexible use of mathematical ratios as a starting point rather than as an inflexible requirement. The district court's plan was reasonable, feasible, and workable, even though it required busing.

In addition to laying out a number of broad principles for ascertaining whether a school system has reached unitary status, the Court noted that the "scope of permissible transportation of students as an implement of a remedial decree...cannot be defined with precision." In the case of CMS, it found that the district court's plan for transporting elementary school students to be reasonable, but left open the possibility that a transportation scheme could be invalidated if it posed a risk to health of children or the functioning of the educational process. Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Bd. of Ed., 402 U.S. 1 (1971). On June 7, the Supreme Court denied the Board's petition for a rehearing.

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court's decision, the Board submitted a new plan on June 17, 1971. It presented a revised feeder-school system for the 1971-72 term, but the Board withdrew it after Judge McMillan found several inadequacies. On June 29, 1971, the court suggested the Board either adjust their plan to result in more integration or continue using the Finger Plan. The student body ratio in each school was to be near 70 percent white and 30 percent black, with no school being predominantly black. Ultimately, the court decided to abandon the approved Finger plan and submit a modified feeder plan. Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Bd. of Ed., 328 F. Supp. 1346 (W.D.N.C. 1971).

On October 21, 1971, the original plaintiffs filed a motion for further relief, alleging the Board was not following through with its feeder plan. Judge McMillan denied the motion, but given that the Board was showing a willingness to allow re-segregation through its transfer policies, the case was kept open to ensure enforcement of the feeder plan as proposed. Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Bd. of Ed., 328 F. Supp. 1346 (W.D.N.C. 1971).

On June 19, 1973, Judge McMillan ordered the Board to refrain from using its feeder plan, which Judge McMillan considered to be likely to result in resegregation. For the 1973-74 school year, the court allowed for the existing plan to move forward, with several exceptions related to specific schools. The Board was ordered to submit a new plan by March 1, 1974. Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Bd. of Ed., 362 F. Supp. 1223 (W.D.N.C. 1973).

On July 11, 1975, Judge McMillan ordered the Swann case closed and removed from the docket. He noted that the student assignment plan was satisfactory and praised the cooperation of a new Board, but added that CMS was required to comply with existing court orders and other legal requirements barring racial discrimination.

The issue of school desegregation in Charlotte-Mecklenburg was revived in the 1998 case Capacchione v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Bd. of Ed.. The plaintiff there was the parent of a student who was denied admission to a magnet school because the CMS school board stated it was complying with race assignment requirements stemming from the desegregation order. On March 6, 1998, the district court granted the Swann plaintiffs' motions to (1) restore the case to the active docket and (2) consolidate Swann with Capacchione. The court simultaneously denied the defendants' motion to dismiss. 179 F.R.D. 177 (1998).

On September 9, 1999, the district court ruled that the school district had achieved unitary status with respect to the desegregation order. Thus, the court ruled it would dissolve the order. Further, the court found, with respect to Capacchione's particular claim that CMS instituted an unconstitutional admissions policy for its magnet schools, that the school district's inflexible ratio of Black to non-Black admitted students was an improperly tailored solution, like that in Regents of the Univ. of Cal. v. Bakke (438 U.S. 265 (1978)). 57 F. Supp. 228 (1999).

Both the plaintiffs and the Board appealed. On October 14, 1999, the Board filed a motion to stay and for additional relief. In its motion, the Board sought a limited stay, pursuant to Rule 62 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, "of the effective date of the injunction in th[e] case until the beginning of the 2001-02 academic year." 190 F.R.D. 170. The plaintiffs also sought a full stay pending appeal. Both motions for stay were denied.

The Fourth Circuit, on November 30, 2000, affirmed in part, reversed in part, vacated in part, and remanded. Specifically, the appellate court found that unitary status had not been achieved with respect to student assignment, facilities, transportation, or student achievement. However, the court did find unitary status regarding faculty and extracurricular activities. Further, the court found that the lower court's finding of the school district's magnet school admissions policy as unconstitutional was incorrect because it was done in accordance with the existing injunctive desegregation order. 233 F.3d 232.

Following this decision, the Fourth Circuit granted a rehearing en banc. On January 17, 2001, the appellate court vacated its opinion. Thus, on September 21, 2001, the Fourth Circuit, after rehearing the case en banc, issued a per curiam opinion. The appellate court found that the school district did achieve unitary status, thus affirming the district court's decision to dissolve the injunctive desegregation order. The Fourth Circuit further affirmed the district court's finding that the school district's magnet school admissions policy was not narrowly tailored due to its rigid quotas. 269 F.3d 305 (2001). The decision was appealed to the Supreme Court, but on April 15, 2002, the Supreme Court denied certiorari.

This case is now closed.

Available Opinions

Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Bd. of Ed., 243 F. Supp. 667 (W.D.N.C. 1965).

Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Bd. of Ed., 369 F.2d 29 (4th Cir. 1966).

Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Bd. of Ed., 300 F. Supp. 1358 (W.D.N.C. 1969).

Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Bd. of Ed., 300 F. Supp. 1381 (W.D.N.C. 1969).

Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Bd. of Ed., 311 F. Supp. 265 (W.D.N.C. 1970).

Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Bd. of Ed., 431 F.2d 138 (4th Cir. 1970).

Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Bd. of Ed., 318 F. Supp. 786 (W.D.N.C. 1970).

Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Bd. of Ed., 402 U.S. 1 (1971).

Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Bd. of Ed., 328 F. Supp. 1346 (W.D.N.C. 1971).

Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Bd. of Ed., 362 F. Supp. 1223 (W.D.N.C. 1973).

Summary Authors

Jeanette Pitts (3/25/2013)

Bryce Freeman (3/23/2018)

Jonah Hudson-Erdman (4/14/2021)

Matthew Feng (9/6/2021)

Related Cases

Scott v. Winston-Salem/Forsyth Cty. Bd. of Educ., Middle District of North Carolina (1968)

Milliken v. Bradley, Eastern District of Michigan (1970)

People


Judge(s)

Bryan, Albert Vickers Jr. (Virginia)

Burger, Warren Earl (District of Columbia)

Butzner, John Decker Jr. (Virginia)

Craven, James Braxton Jr. (Virginia)

Field, John A. Jr. (West Virginia)

Haynsworth, Clement Furman Jr. (South Carolina)

King, Robert Bruce (South Carolina)

Luttig, J. Michael (Virginia)

McMillan, James Bryan (North Carolina)

Michael, M. Blane (South Carolina)

Judge(s)

Bryan, Albert Vickers Jr. (Virginia)

Burger, Warren Earl (District of Columbia)

Butzner, John Decker Jr. (Virginia)

Craven, James Braxton Jr. (Virginia)

Field, John A. Jr. (West Virginia)

Haynsworth, Clement Furman Jr. (South Carolina)

King, Robert Bruce (South Carolina)

Luttig, J. Michael (Virginia)

McMillan, James Bryan (North Carolina)

Michael, M. Blane (South Carolina)

Motz, Diana Jane Gribbon (Maryland)

Murnaghan, Francis Dominic Jr. (Maryland)

Niemeyer, Paul Victor (Maryland)

Phillips, James Dickson Jr. (North Carolina)

Potter, Robert Daniel (North Carolina)

Russell, Donald Stuart (South Carolina)

Traxler, William Byrd Jr. (South Carolina)

Widener, Hiram Emory Jr. (Virginia)

Wilkins, William Walter (South Carolina)

Wilkinson, J. Harvie III (District of Columbia)

Williams, Karen J. (South Carolina)

Winter, Harrison Lee (Maryland)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Browne, Gloria J. (New York)

Chachkin, Norman J. (New York)

Chambers, Julius LeVonne (New York)

Earls, Anita S. (North Carolina)

Ferguson, James E. (North Carolina)

Greenberg, Jack (New York)

Jones, Elaine R. (New York)

Largess, S. Luke (North Carolina)

Nabrit, James M. III (New York)

Pearson, C. O. (North Carolina)

Stein, Adam (North Carolina)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Borkowski, John W. (District of Columbia)

Brenner, Irving M. (District of Columbia)

Lanigan, Kevin J. (District of Columbia)

Middlebrooks, James G. (North Carolina)

Newmann, David B. (District of Columbia)

Sneed, Maree F. (District of Columbia)

Snyder, Allen R. (District of Columbia)

Winner, Leslie J. (North Carolina)

Other Attorney(s)

Adams, K. Lee (Georgia)

Ashcraft, Thomas J. (North Carolina)

Audette, Rose Marie L. (District of Columbia)

Gregory, David D. (District of Columbia)

Griswold, Erwin N. (District of Columbia)

Helfand, William Scott (Texas)

Landsberg, Brian K. (District of Columbia)

Leonard, Jerris (District of Columbia)

Meyers, Lee (North Carolina)

Norman, David L. (District of Columbia)

Parks, Allan Leroy Jr. (Georgia)

Parsons, Kevin V (North Carolina)

Pollard, John O. (North Carolina)

Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

3:65-cv-01974

Docket [PACER]

Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Educ.

April 22, 2002

April 22, 2002

Docket

3:65-cv-01974

Opinion

Swann v. Charlotee-Mecklenburg Board of Education

243 F.Supp. 667

July 14, 1965

July 14, 1965

Order/Opinion

3:65-cv-01974

Opinion

Swann v. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education

U. S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

369 F.2d 29

Oct. 24, 1966

Oct. 24, 1966

Order/Opinion

3:65-cv-01974

Opinion and Order Regarding Desegregation of Schools of Charlotte and Mecklenburg Country, North Carolina

Swann v. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education

300 F.Supp. 1358

April 23, 1969

April 23, 1969

Order/Opinion

3:65-cv-01974

Order

Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education

June 3, 1969

June 3, 1969

Order/Opinion

3:65-cv-01974

70-00281

Opinion and Order

Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education

June 20, 1969

June 20, 1969

Order/Opinion

3:65-cv-01974

Order

Swann v. Charlotee-Mecklenburg Board of Education

Aug. 15, 1969

Aug. 15, 1969

Order/Opinion

3:65-cv-01974

Order

Swann v. Charlotee-Mecklenburg Board of Education

Aug. 29, 1969

Aug. 29, 1969

Order/Opinion

3:65-cv-01974

70-00281

Order

Swann v. Charlotee-Mecklenburg Board of Education

Oct. 10, 1969

Oct. 10, 1969

Order/Opinion

3:65-cv-01974

Order

Swann v. Charlotee-Mecklenburg Board of Education

Nov. 7, 1969

Nov. 7, 1969

Order/Opinion

Resources

Docket

Last updated Aug. 5, 2022, 3:14 a.m.

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.

Case Details

State / Territory: North Carolina

Case Type(s):

School Desegregation

Key Dates

Filing Date: Jan. 19, 1965

Closing Date: April 15, 2002

Case Ongoing: No

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

Parents on behalf of their minor schoolchildren

Plaintiff Type(s):

Private Plaintiff

Attorney Organizations:

NAACP Legal Defense Fund

Public Interest Lawyer: Yes

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: Yes

Class Action Outcome: Granted

Defendants

Charlotte-Mecklenburg County Board of Education (Charlotte, NC, Mecklenburg), School District

Defendant Type(s):

Elementary/Secondary School

Case Details

Causes of Action:

42 U.S.C. § 1983

Title VI, Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d et seq.

Constitutional Clause(s):

Equal Protection

Availably Documents:

Trial Court Docket

Monetary Relief

Injunctive (or Injunctive-like) Relief

Non-settlement Outcome

Any published opinion

U.S. Supreme Court merits opinion

Outcome

Prevailing Party: Plaintiff

Nature of Relief:

Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement

Attorneys fees

Source of Relief:

Litigation

Order Duration: 1970 - 2001

Content of Injunction:

Busing

Discrimination Prohibition

Goals (e.g., for hiring, admissions)

Monitor/Master

Monitoring

Other requirements regarding hiring, promotion, retention

Reporting

Student assignment

Issues

General:

Education

Racial segregation

School/University Facilities

School/University policies

Staff (number, training, qualifications, wages)

Transportation

Wait lists

Discrimination-basis:

Race discrimination

Race:

Black

Type of Facility:

Government-run