Dayton Board of Education v. Brinkman
Decided on June 27, 1977; 443 US 406

Courts dispute over how to desegregate an Ohio school district


A. Issues Discussed: Civil Rights (race), 14th Amendment, equal protection clause

B. Legal Question Presented:

Was it within the scope of the Court's authority to mandate court-ordered remedies in light of the constitutional violations discovered?


A. Background:

In 1972, a number of students of the Dayton, Ohio School District, via their parents (respondents), brought an action to the US District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.  Respondents alleged that the Dayton Board of Education (petitioners) engaged in racial discrimination by racially segregating the school system, violating the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. 

Finding a "cumulative violation" of the Equal Protections Clause, the District Court attempted to mediate a resolution which would remedy the segregated state of the city’s schools.  Following reversals by the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, the District Court eventually mediated a plan that the Court of Appeals approved as a system-wide remedy.

The plan required that beginning with the 1976-1977 school year, the racial composition of each school in the district would have to be brought within 15% of Dayton’s 48%-52% black-white population ratio, accomplished by a variety of desegregation techniques.

On appeal by the Dayton Board of Education, the US Supreme Court granted certiorari.
B. Counsel of Record:
Opposing Side
Louis R. Lucas argued the cause for respondents.  With him on the brief were Paul R. Dimond, Nathaniel R. Jones, Robert A. Murphy, Norman J. Chachkin, William E. Caldwell, and Richard Austin.
David C. Greer argued the cause for petitioners.  With him on the brief was Leo F. Krebs.
C. The Arguments:
Opposing Side
Unavailable Unavailable
Opposing Side
Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed by Attorney General Bell, Acting Solicitor General Friedman, Assistant Attorney General Days, Deputy Solicitor General Wallace, Brian K. Landsberg, and Joel L. Selig for the United States, and by Robert Allen Sedler, Joel M. Gora, and E. Richard Larson for the American Civil Liberties Union.
Armistead W. Gilliam, Jr., filed a brief for the Ohio State Board of Education et al. as amicus curiae.

"[T]he duty of both the District Court and the Court of Appeals in a case such as this, where mandatory segregation by law of the races in the schools has long since ceased, is to first determine whether there was any action in the conduct of the business of the School Board which are intended to, and did in fact, discriminate against minority pupils, teachers, or staff.

If such violations are found, the District Court in the first instance, subject to review by the Court of Appeals, must determine how much incremental segregative effects these violations had on the racial distribution of the Dayton school population as presently constituted, when that distribution is compared to what it would have been in the absence of such constitutional violations.  The remedy must be designed to redress that difference, and only if there has been a systemwide impact may there be a system wide remedy.

We realize that this is a difficult task, and that it is much easier for a reviewing court to fault ambiguous phrases such as ‘cumulative violation’ than it is for the finder of fact to make the complex factual determinations in the first instance. Nonetheless, that is what the Constitution and our cases call for, and that is what must be done in this case.

While we have found that the plan implicitly, if not explicitly, imposed by the Court of Appeals was erroneous on the present state of the record, it is undisputed that it has been in effect in the Dayton school system during the present year without creating serious problems.  While a school board and a school constituency which attempted to comply with a plan to the best of their abilities should not be penalized, we think that the plan finally adopted by the District Court should remain in effect for the coming year subject to such further orders of the District Court as it may find warranted following the hearings mandated by this opinion.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals is vacated, and the cause is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
Justice Vote: 0 Pro vs. 8 Con
  • Rehnquist, W. Con (Wrote majority opinion)
  • White, B. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Stewart, P. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Blackmun, H. Con (Joined majority opinion) 
  • Powell, L. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Burger, W. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Stevens, J. Con (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Marshall, T. Con (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Brennan, W. Con (Wrote concurring opinion)

The ACLU filed as amicus urging affirmance; the US Supreme Court vacated the Court of Appeals decision in an 8-0 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent loss.