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Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education

Citation. 402 U.S. 1, 91 S. Ct. 1267, 28 L. Ed. 2d 554, 1971 U.S.
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Brief Fact Summary.

School districts undergoing desegregation under Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954) (Brown I), and Brown v. Board of Education, 349 U.S. 294 (1955) (Brown II), sought clarification of their duties and the scope of federal district courts’ power under [Brown I/II].

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

The scope of District Court authority is broad, but enters only when local school districts have not voluntarily brought themselves into compliance with Brown I/II.


In the wake of Brown II, many school districts still sought to maintain vestiges of their pre-Brown I segregated systems. Defendant school districts brought suit, alleging that District Courts had overreached their authority, broad as it may be, under Brown II.


What is the scope of District Court authority under Brown II?
When is it appropriate for the court to invoke that authority?


The authority is broad, but is appropriate only where local districts have failed to bring themselves into compliance with Brown I on their own accord.
Remedial authority does not put judges “automatically in the shoes of school authorities.”
Mathematical racial quotas are an allowable exercise of judicial authority, when used as a starting point after a “total default” of the school board’s duty.
Single-race schools are not per se a “mark of a system that still practices segregation by law.” The court “should scrutinize such schools,” and the burden is on the school district to demonstrate that the school’s racial makeup is not the result of past or present de jure segregation.
The courts may redefine district lines to desegregate the systems, even though such redistricting may cause initial inconvenience and burdens.
Busing is an appropriate remedy, as well, as long as the time involved in the busing does not risk the health of the children or significantly impinge on the educational process.


The Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) made clear that the federal courts have almost carte blanche in desegregating previously segregated school systems. However, their authority only exists when the local school boards “default” in their efforts to desegregate.

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