Friday, November 15, 2013

Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education case brief

Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education case brief summary
402 U.S. 1 (1971)

Petitioner filed a motion for further relief under a school desegregation order, which the district court granted, adopting a new desegregation plan. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed in part, but vacated in part and remanded. The Court granted certiorari, reinstating the district court's order pending further proceedings. On August 7, 1970, the district court ordered that a revised plan stay in effect.

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 Negro ratio in the schools, which reflected the system's student population. The final board plan left 10 schools 86 percent to 100 percent Negro 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 Negro. 
  • 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.

The Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals as to those parts in which it affirmed the judgment of the district court. The order of the district court, dated August 7, 1970, was also affirmed.

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