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Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education

Citation. 22 Ill.402 U.S. 1, 91 S. Ct. 1267, 28 L. Ed. 2d 554 (1971)
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Brief Fact Summary.

The Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) granted certiorari to determine whether the Respondent, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education’s (Respondent), desegregation plan was an effective and reasonable attempt to desegregate public schools in its district.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

The constitutional mandate to desegregate public schools did not require all schools in a district to reflect the district’s racial composition, but the existence of all-black or all-white schools must not be shown to be the result of segregation policies. The court also held that since school buses were a traditional form of public education transportation, they could be used in busing efforts to correct racial imbalances.


The Respondent’s school system encompasses roughly 500 square miles. During the 1968-1969 school year the system served more than 84,000 pupils, approximately 71% of the pupils were white and 29% of the pupils were Negro. Approximately two-thirds of the Negro children attended schools which were entirely Negro or more than 99% Negro. Pursuant to an order of a federal district court, the school board adopted a desegregation plan for elementary schools that included grouping two or three outlying schools with one inner-city black school and transporting black children to the white schools and white children to the black schools.


What are the duties of the school authorities and the scope of powers of the federal courts under the Supreme Court’s mandate to eliminate racially separate public schools under and maintained by state action?


In default by the school authorities of their affirmative obligation to proffer acceptable remedies, the district courts have broad power to fashion remedies that will assure unitary school systems. Policy and practice with regard to faculty, staff, transportation, extracurricular activities and facilities are among the most important indicia of a segregated system and the first remedial responsibility of school authorities is to eliminate invidious racial distinctions in those respects. In devising remedies to eliminate legally imposed segregation, local authorities and district courts must see to it that future school construction and abandonment are not used and do not serve to perpetuate or re-establish a dual system.


This case furthers the decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka regarding the unconstitutionality of racial segregation in public schools. In this case, the Supreme Court is evaluating a local school districts plan to achieve racial desegregation. The Supreme Court held that busing and racial quotas were acceptable tools in trying to achieve racial desegregation.

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